Ditch the bag this International Compost Awareness Week

  • Last updated: 23 November 2022
This International Compost Awareness Week (6-12 May), why not celebrate with a completely compostable cuppa?
Emma adding to compost heap

As we revealed last month, most tea bags have traces of plastic in them. This makes them unsuitable for your compost heap, as the plastic doesn't degrade. Our advice is to forget the bags and drink leaf tea whenever possible.

And if coffee is your brew, ditch the plastic pods. Both coffee grounds and tea leaves are excellent additions to your compost heap, so brew up a pot and save your leaves for the heap.

Can't bear to lose the bag?

We've done some research on tea bag construction. As you may know, it is the heat-sealing process which involves a small amount of polypropylene in each bag. And it won't biodegrade in a domestic compost heap, or in a commercial green waste facility. So we looked at the top ten brands of tea bag suppliers to see where they stand on plastic. To see our full findings click here.

We've discovered some who already offer plastic free bags (well done Tea Pigs), and many who are promising to move towards plastic free (such as Co-op own brand, PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea).

However, it is not as straightforward as you might imagine.

Clipper (who provide organic tea) point out that the corn starch product currently used in plastic-free bags is probably sourced from GMO corn. Which they don't approve of. They are working on other fibres and methods of sealing.

Pukka has fine credentials on fabric bags, tied with string and printed with vegetable inks. But they wrap each bag in a plastic-coated envelope which is neither compostable nor recyclable.

Biodegradable or compostable?

Many brands claim their new plastic free bags will be 'biodegradable' - but this process is not the same as compostable. Biodegradable needs the high heat of a commerical waste process to break down. Even with these new fabrics, domestic compost makers will still be fishing the bags out of their fresh compost for years to come. And sending the bags to council waste collection deprives your heap of the useful contents.

The good news is that nearly all the suppliers are working on a plastic free bag. But it is up to us, the consumer, to decide if we really need it.

So, now you know the full picture, can you go bag free after all?

To help raise awareness amongst our own staff, we are going to go bag-free at GO headquarters for the duration of International Compost Awareness Week. We will be bringing in our tea pots and strainers from home, and will be swapping the bags for loose leaf tea. "This organisation runs on tea, so any change will prove a challenge." commented David Garrett, Sustainable Communities Manager and in-house Compost Chief, "We are so used to making our own individual cups of tea throughout the day it will make a nice change to share a pot together. And of course the compost will benefit too."

See here for our advice on tea bags for organic growers. And here for more about plastics in the garden.