The perils of the British cuppa

Filed in Blog by on November 4, 2008 25 Comments
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What is the answer to a zero waste cup of tea?Yesterday passed pretty uneventfully here at Chez Green. Little Miss Green woke herself up coughing, so down went the sage and garlic syrup (brave girl). She needs a large orange juice chaser to follow that one, but it’s a miracle worker that will have her restored in no time.
I reached a point of no return with not being able to see any floor space in the office, so I tidied up while Little Miss green did a sterling job on her own bedroom. I’m pleased to say that all ‘rubbish’ was paper based, so no nasties there. I should think so too after all the effort I put into decluttering recently; but you never know if you’re going to find a broken hanger, demolished plastic toy or half a chewed shoe in her room. The other day I found a broken cd – have you ever tried to break one of those things? Yep, this was in several sharp pieces, just because she could and she was ‘interested to see how hard it would be to break’…….. <sigh>

In the afternoon our lovely friend from the council came over to discuss some zero waste ideas for next years Gloucestershire Zero Waste week. We gleaned all sorts of juicy information about things happening across the county. Not to do with zero waste week per se, but other initiatives that bought a smile to my face. I shall put my journalists head on and dig out some details to share later in the week.

That meeting bought up a whole zero waste issue in itself. We’re not tea drinkers you see, but I happened to know that our guest was. So this morning I headed off to my local shop for tea bags. Do you think I could find any without either cellophane wrapping, foil inners or both? No, nak, nadda….
In the end I plumped for Co-Op Fair trade which had the cellophane wrap but no foil inners. I’m not about to buy a teapot that needs dusting off everytime we get a visitor so does anyone have the perfect landfill-friendly solution for a good cuppa?

I thought about being a misery and saying we didn’t have any tea bags, but that seemed a bit anti social so I made the best purchase I could.

If you live in Gloucestershire and haven’t done so already, please sign up for zero waste week along with all the other householders who have said YES to reducing their rubbish! it’s not as terrifying as it sounds, you can pledge to do one simple thing such as take reusable bags to the shops. As we keep shouting from the treetops here on My Zero Waste, if everyone does just one thing towards reducing their landfill waste, the overall impact can be huge.

Appetites were low today, so my ‘use soon’ things on the top shelf of my immaculately clean and tidy fridge are still there. Fortunately they are still ok and should get used up in time. Of course one never takes into account ‘possible ill health’ when meal planning. Last week I couldn’t keep Little Miss Green topped up enough with food. Perhaps I need to polish off my crystal ball and start using that more too.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (25)

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  1. Tea packaging just baffles me…why is a plastic wrapper needed when the tea is all contained in a bag inside the box? It’s enough to send me all blaaagh! I can recommend the Twinings tea bags, which just come in a cardboard. If you’re looking for loose tea, hunt out PG tips which doesn’t have a wrapper or inner bag either. Sounds like a great meeting Mrs G…I’m now off to get a cup of tea πŸ˜€ x

  2. Indiebird says:

    Hi Mrs Green. No tea-drinking? what kinda family are you?? *shudders at the thought* What about loose tea and a little metal ball you can buy from those tea shop places on the highstreet (cannot for the lie of me remember the name) They are good for all sorts of infusions, not just black tea leaves. You can also buy tea by the weight (i.e. not much) from these types of places too.

  3. SR says:

    republic of tea brand comes in a tin, they ship with the paper scraps used from making their tea bags, they loose, bags, and bulk. you dont have to get the tin each time you can reorder a refill
    they are a tad pricer but if its for once and a while might as well buy the good stuff, they have fair trade and organic as well

  4. Poppy says:

    No tea Mrs G! I’m amazed! We’d be lost without tea πŸ™

    I do wonder about some of the packaging. It seems that if you are heavy tea drinkers, you can buy them in big bags rather than boxes with cellophane wrap. We tend to go for medium size packs, I think it’s Tetley we have at the moment (I would go to look, but I have a little purr box stuck on my shoulder at the moment!!), which is in a coated paper bag.(the tea, not the purr box!)

  5. maisie says:

    I had this aame dilema a while back and in the end as we are big tea drinkers and costs were part of the equation decided to go with either Co-op or Sainsburys as both are fair trade and only have the cellophane outer no foil inner.

  6. Katy says:

    I second Mrs A’s recommendation of Twinings. I think my redbush tea also came with no outer or inner plastic wrapper, but I don’t recall the brand off the top of my head. For some herbal teas the outer wrap is because they have pungent ingredients (e.g. mint) that would taint nearby boxes if they weren’t sealed. Anyone who’s had unsealed peppermint teabags may know what I mean πŸ™‚

    At least it’s not as bad as the teabags they supply for meetings where I work, which each have their OWN plastic wrapper with additional cardboard inner label. Good grief.

  7. Di Hickman says:

    Another thing to think about is that most t-bags aren’t compostable. You won’t know either unless you write to ask. Some bags are made with plastic for a sealent. I know Tetley has the plastic around the edge as I asked. I’m guessing it’s minimal but all the same not something you want in a compost pile.

  8. Here in the U.S., I drink “Red Rose.”

    It is wrapped in cellophane, but I’m able to take it to be recycled into plastic “lumber.”

    The bags are not individually wrapped. There are three white paper board dividers, which I pull out and we use to make bookmarks. The paper box goes into out curbside recycling.

    The tea also comes with a small ceramic animal. I have hundreds of these, and my kids enjoy playing with them.

    I drink 3-5 cups of tea per day, so this is a serious subject for me. I would sooner give up bread than tea.

    -Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

  9. Mrs Green says:

    Hello everyone. Ahhhh, tea – people just can’t resist sharing their experiences about this great drink LOL!

    Mrs A – you and me both; why the belts and braces stuff with tea packaging. Thanks for the tips – I’ll look out for Twinnings; I’ve seen their herbal teas, but not their black tea; I didn’t even know they did it. Shall take a look tomorrow πŸ™‚

    Hi Indiebird; I told you we were unusual! I used to drink about 10 cups a day, but gave it up. And DH is a coffee fan, so that doesn’t leave anyone else. Hmmm, loose tea – I could try that; does it keep ok? I mean, 40 bags in this house lasts about a year LOL! I have one of those metal ball things for herbal teas, so I could use that like a teapot, couldn’t I – great thought; thanks!

    Hi SR – good to see that website; I loved their packaging and it’s great to see the fairtrade and organic options. It would make a great gift for an avid tea-drinking friend of mine. I’ll look at Whittards, which is the UK equivalent to see what they offer πŸ™‚

    Poppy! Purr box – I use that too; isn’t that funny πŸ˜€ I thought I was a weirdo, but no, it seems you are one too. How is kitty coming along? Make sure he doesn’t help himself to all the milk, otherwise you won’t be able to have a cup of tea πŸ˜‰

    Maisie, it sounds like we may have bought the same product; it was a ‘lesser of the evils’ moment – if I couldn’t get perfect packaging, then at least I knew it was fairtrade πŸ™‚

    Katy, I hear you on the pungency of herbal teas. We have peppermint and it is strong; but I love it. I guess other people might not, however πŸ™‚ Another Twinnings recommendation; great – I shall definitely look it out. Ack! those individually wrapped teabags really take the p*** don’t they? It’s all about branding. Grrrrrr. Loved the Amazon article today, btw; I shall be stealing that one and posting up here too πŸ˜€

    Do, you’ve unearthed something very interesting there. I did not know that some have plastic in them!! All our herbal tea bags go straight into the compost, but I’ve begun noticing that some of them attach the string with a tiny staple too **bangs head against wall** I’ll have to examine them more closely and it looks as if I may be edging towards loose tea more and more!

    Katy, it’s great that you can recycle cellophane; there are no facilities for that here, but SOME cellophane is compostable, whereas others is not, but nothing actually tells you. Aaaaaaargh! And where would we be without a free ceramic animal eh? πŸ˜‰ Glad you have found a zero waste tea that you can enjoy.

  10. I compost tea bags anyway. Oh and the hens seem to like them too. I figure the amount of *stuff* that gets flung in my compost heap via the hoover is ok, then the odd bit of *stuff* on a tea bag will be fine. Soil has a fairly large inert component anyway, and we pick obvious lego out of the compost if we spot it.

    As for tea, I tend to have Clipper Fair trade/Organic but while being unbleached bags, fair trade etc tea and an unwrapped card box, it does have that nasty foily plastic inner bag to hold the tea bags.

  11. just Gai says:

    I cannot live without tea and my greatest fear was that I might have to give it up for my Zero Waste Challenge Week. So I took myself down to Sainsbury’s where I poked and prodded every packet of tea before I found one brand that was completely waste free – no cellophane wrapper and no hidden foil – just teabags in a cardboard box – how original!!! And it was Jacksons of Picadilly. Fairly traded to boot. The 52 million dollar question is: If Jacksons can do it why can’t all the rest?

  12. Poppy says:

    Our zillion teabags a day all go in the compost bin and although they take a while to break down completely, I’ve not noticed any ‘leftovers’.

    Mrs G – it’s 2 purr boxes and I’m not giving them milk at the moment. I’m hoping to get them on to dry food, but for now they are on pouches as that’s what they were weened on and I don’t want to upset their little tums. I cuss everytime I throw an empty pouch away and I fear we may be upto 2 carriers of rubbish this week πŸ™

  13. esther says:

    we have those awesome teastores in Paris, you can buy tea at the weight, and they will put this in beautiful tins, if you like…this might have been a solution for you?

  14. Flippa xXx says:

    I was absolutely disgusted when I asked one of my work colleagues to pick me up some green tea from Sainsbury’s the other day – They came back with a selection-box by Twinings. Not only was there cellophane on the outside and each bag individually wrapped (in paper, which is recyclable but unnecessary all the same) but each flavour was wrapped in cellophane (so the box of 25 had 5 internal cellophane wraps too). I mean, what is the point?!?!? Are the flavours going to contaminate through the teabag AND the paper? So that’s one big cellophane wrap, 5 smaller cellophane wraps, one cardboard box and 25 paper bags (complete with string and staple). And then the teabag itself of course! All for 25 cups of tea…Suffice to say will not be purchasing any more Twinings tea…
    I usually go for Clipper as they use unbleached teabags and come in a recyclable box but they still use the dreaded foil bag inside. *Sigh* And you never know until you open the box either, but I will certainly have a look for the Jackson’s range for a zero waste option.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    Sarah, I have been flinging herbal tea bags in the compost too (as well as glitter, sequins and beads from the hoover **sigh**

    Just Gai – people all across the lands are breathing a sigh of relief for you. Jacksons of picadilly will not know what has hit their sales soon πŸ˜€ Thank you for sharing this!

    Ahhh, Poppy, we can let you off your landfill for a few weeks while your new purr boxes settle in. It’s not for ever that they will need to be fed like this. Love them πŸ™‚

    FLippa – that is a great example of excessive packaging. Maybe a letter to the manufacturer – along with their packaging might be in order if you have the energy to do it. Let us know what you decide and if you find any other brands in the meantime πŸ™‚

  16. Flippa xXx says:

    Don’t worry Mrs Green…an email has been sent! Although whether I actually get a response is a different question! I will keep you posted.

  17. Kris says:

    Can I ask for details of the sage and garlic syrup please… *snuffle*

  18. Flippa xXx says:

    I will have to stop being so cynical…I have today received an email from Twinings:

    “The designs of our packaging are the result of extensive research and testing. Our aim is to produce a carton that as far as possible meets the requirements of the consumer, that is effective in its function and is easy and safe to use. Although we try to ensure that it satisfies consumers requirements it can be that sometimes potential issues are unforeseen.

    However, further to you comments, I can advise that we are now monitoring the amount of comments received from consumers regarding this. Obviously the current packaging has been printed, but we always welcome feedback that can
    help improve our products”.

    And they said they are sending some vouchers in the post for raising the issue. I wonder if they will take this into consideration for future products?

  19. We can but hope they do Flippa. the key phrase in rthat email, for me, is:

    “we are now monitoring the amount of comments received from consumers regarding this”

    Do you think they’d listen if we started a carefully targeted email and letter writing campaign?

  20. Poppy says:

    Well done on getting a reply from them πŸ™‚ I had success with McVities, but didn’t like their flippant and way off target reply, but no reply as yet from Activia.

  21. Mrs Green says:

    Oh Kris, poor you – I will email you details.

    My, girls; you have been busy over here! I saw the Twinnings tea bags in our local Co-Op this week. I’ll buy them next time although the box was HUGE – it will probably last about 5 years in this house LOL!

    Thanks for the copy of the email, Flippa and do enjoy spending your vouchers – I think it’s all hands on deck then to see if we can get them to change their policy πŸ˜‰ Shall we begin a campaign Sarah?

    Poppy, I’ve had some pretty dire responses in my time too πŸ™ It’s good to keep trying though as occasionally, something good comes up………

  22. Flippa xXx says:

    I think making these companies aware of how many people are concerned about excess packaging and waste by emailing/letter writing is a great way to get these companies to realise the error of their ways.

    The thing that shocked me when I got the vouchers through is that Twinings own Jackson’s who apparently have a Zero waste box of tea, so they know that it can be done!

  23. Mrs Green says:

    Weird isn’t it Flippa? I think we all need to write to them then and see if we can bring about any changes to their policy. I didn’t know they owned Jacksons! How about that…..

  24. Mrs Jackson says:

    Hi all

    I try to compensate for this problem by buying the biggest box (240s I think it is) of pg tips I can find – thus reducing the amount of awful plastic wrapping I’m throwing away (well I like to hope so anyhow).

  25. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Mrs J – buying in a bulk is a good way to reduce waste (not to mention cutting cost). I’m hoping to share a post on some of my finding about buying in bulk later in the week πŸ™‚

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