Plastics and Tea

by John Mellor February 05, 2020 6 min read 2 Comments

Individually Wrapped Tea bags

Above - our individually wrapped tea bags.

 

Where do we stand on plastic?

There has been a lot in the press recently about plastic in tea bags.

I wanted to make sure that you’re up to speed on where we are on this and what we consider ‘plastic free’.

I genuinely do think what we’re doing is a good thing and I’ve invested heavily based on this belief.

I also appreciate that we’re not perfect.

Our products need to be disposed of in the correct manner and the purpose of this note is to help explain our understanding of this.

This isn’t something new – all products that are recyclable need to be recycled correctly and this is ultimately the responsibility of the end user but I do think it’s my responsibility to let you know the best way to recycle and dispose of our products.

We have three product ranges so I’ll talk you through each one in turn.

Our tea bags – our wrapped tea bags – and our loose teas.

There are a few elements to each one – the product and the packaging and the outer packaging.

So a fair bit to talk through!

Biodegradable tea bags

First let’s chat about our tea bags.

These are made from PLA – it’s a biodegradable mesh made from cornstarch. It’s deemed a bioplastic and is commercially compostable. What I mean by this is that it isn’t suitable for your normal garden compost heap – it must be composted at higher temperatures usually found at a larger commercial or local authority composter.

To make sure that they are composted they can be put in with your food waste and your council pick up will take care of the rest. 

The string and tag can be composted too and there is no glue used.

All good?

Well, yes if you have access to a food waste collection.

Most of our business is through trade – to cafes, restaurants, hotels and the like. These places will have access to food waste collections as they need to.

However for individuals who don’t have access to food waste collections then it’s a bit more complicated and they can end up in landfill which is not where I want them to go.

I feel it’s a kind of chicken and egg situation – what do you do first? Create the bioplastic before everywhere can deal with them? Or wait before everywhere can deal with them then start using the bioplastic? It’s a tough one but I believe that what we’re doing is the right way forward but it relies on them being disposed of in the right way. This though can be said of all recycling and food waste in general.

If you don’t have access to food waste then I would suggest you look at using our loose tea instead. You lose the convenience of a bag but you still get to enjoy a good cup of tea without any plastic issues.

Now before I go onto our loose teas – I’d like to talk about our wrapped range of pyramid bags. Many of the wraps available on the market have themselves a plastic film on the inside to seal in the freshness.

Our bags use a material called Natureflex.

If you haven’t heard of this I would recommend putting it into google and taking a look.

Or just click this link here - http://www.futamuragroup.com/divisions/cellulose-films/products/natureflex/

Although it is another bioplastic – this time made from cellulose - the difference with this is that it can be home composted on your compost heap as well as commercially composted. It doesn’t require the higher temperatures that a commercial composter achieves. So it can be put in with your food waste too as well as your garden compost heap.

This means our wrapped range of bags and wrappers can be put in the food bin. This was developed for some of our trade customers.

Natureflex is something that we use in a lot of our packaging as we think it’s rather clever stuff.

Our normal tea bag range comes packed as 15 pyramids at a time in a clear Natureflex bag. This is then packed according to how it’s ordered. We sell it in tubes of 15 which are our retail option. In gift caddies of 30 (so 2 bags of 15), and in trade sizes of 60 (4 bags of 15) and 300 (20 bags of 15).

So the outer wrapper for the pyramid bags can also be put in with your food waste.  

Loose Tea Tubes 

And now onto our loose teas.

We pack these into our retail tubes - typically 100g sizes as you’d see on our website – or in larger 250g or 500g bags.

The smaller sizes are packed into Natureflex bags like our pyramid tea bags and placed inside the tube. The tube is simple recyclable card with a tin lid. It also has a food grade recyclable liner so you can use it to store the tea once it’s opened.

The larger sizes were a bit of a problem to pack. The stand up pouches that are commonly being used across the market for tea and for coffee have a plastic liner. Even the majority of paper kraft ones you see still have a plastic liner. This liner isn’t recyclable in the UK plus it’s a composite with the outer layer so makes it extremely difficult to separate and recycle anyway. These all will end up in landfill.

Compostable Bags

What I’ve done for our bags is to use a paper composite one with a compostable liner – using Natureflex again. It’s not the same as the more common ones I mentioned in that it can all be commercially composted and put in with the food waste. You’ll need to remove the label on the front prior to doing this though as these are recyclable not compostable – but I made the labels easy to peel.

Some of our teas are still having to go into plastic lined packs – this is unavoidable at the moment as I haven’t another solution. For Earl Grey Superior for instance – this has a bergamot oil and as soon as this goes into our compostable bags then the oil reacts with the lining and it starts biodegrading. We found this out the hard way! It’s good to know that it’s doing its job but I don’t want it to happen that soon at the detriment to the tea so these are still in our plastic lined bags.

The compostable bags we have still don’t solve the issue if you don’t have a food waste collection though. Again as the majority of my business is to trade then the majority of the used large compostable bags will end up in with the food waste and composted which is great.

To solve the problem of buying loose tea for consumers on our website who don’t have a food waste bin collection nor a home compost heap is a more difficult problem.

We don’t pack tea to order – it’s just not efficient to do this and I’ll be packing tea all day. We have to use packaging to store the teas as if we didn’t then they’d absorb and take in lots of flavours of nearby teas. Tea is a very absorbent product.

What we can do for online customers though who don’t have access to a food waste collection is to decant the tea into a paper bag for posting purposes. It won’t be the best way to store the tea for any length of time but for the duration of the delivery it will be absolutely fine. That way when it arrives you can put it into your own container and recycle the paper bag.

We can then dispose of the compostable packing for you as we have the facilities here.

If this is something that you’d like to take up then please leave a note for us when you place your order asking for the tea to be placed into a paper bag instead.

Our outer packaging is simple cardboard boxes – we use FSC cardboard boxes or reuse boxes whenever possible. We try to reuse boxes as I feel this is the best way of recycling. It also explains why the parcel that you receive could look used – because it, er,  has – and I encourage you to do the same.

I’m experimenting with shifting to a paper based tape for our shipping too but at the moment this can only go onto new boxes.

Our packing slips and enclosures are made from recycled paper.

I am committed to helping the environment and we are a member of 1% for the Planet. We donate 1% of our sales to charities which help protect the environment.

I make donations to the Marine Conservation Society and The Woodland Trust which are charities which are doing amazing things with the environment as well as having a close meaning to me.

        

It’s important to note that we are a small family business trying to make a difference. A big advantage I have over larger corporations is that I can make decisions and move quickly. I’m always on the look out for new technology in the packing area.

Again I’m not saying that we’re perfect but I do genuinely believe what I’m doing with Shibui is a good thing and we're going in the right direction.

If you would like to discuss this or have any questions then please get in touch – you can contact me on my email at john@shibui-tea.co.uk.

Thank you.

John.


2 Responses

Alison Jackson-Bass
Alison Jackson-Bass

February 20, 2020

I really appreciate your transparency (as well as your excellent teas). Running a sustainable business is not straightforward and you appear to be doing as much as you can. Thank you.

Simon Carter
Simon Carter

February 20, 2020

I have a Hotbin domestic composter which runs at a higher temperature that a normal compost heap – currently 25-30 C in this weather. You can Google Hotbin and you’ll find them easily. I am putting your bags through that at the moment and will see how they break down when I use the compost later in the proper Spring.

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