In Britain, we love our tea. We drink 165 million cups a day (that’s 60.2 billion a year). Watching someone put the milk in first can bring a tear to a Briton’s eye and the debate over which biscuit is the best dunker is fraught with tales of a digestive breaking off in the mug, of crumbs of a rich tea soaking up the dregs to leave a mashed mess. A good cup of tea is a necessary part of life for a Brit; it’s a morning ritual, an afternoon pick me up and it’s given as a gift, as a sign you care for someone you love. Do you prefer Yorkshire gold or standard? Builder’s tea or biscuit colored? PG Tips or Tetley’s? Do you have loose-leaf or a bag? We love our tea so much that when we hear of other countries’ tea-based transgressions, we howl about it for months; the fact that Americans don’t even boil the water is enough to make any Brit’s eye twitch in anger.
Since we drink so much tea, it’s important to consider where it’s coming from and where it’s going. Since tea’s our biggest thing, our arc de triumph, it’s imperative that we talk about the waste. It’s only been in recent years that tea companies have been actually thinking about the materials their bags are made of, with Clipper leading the way with their unbleached tea bags and organic tea leaves. Yet plastic remains as one of the biggest problems in industrialized manufacturing. The plastic-free movement has taken great strides recently; images of mile-wide islands of plastic floating on the Caribbean have been shared numerous times across social media sites and many prime-time TV shows have aired segments dedicated to educating viewers on how to reduce their plastic consumption.
Recently, PG Tips, one of Britain’s most well-loved tea brands has announced their tea bags will be plastic-free from next week on. Since we drink so much tea, this will mean a massive reduction in plastic production and will mean a massive reduction in plastic waste. Noel Clarke, vice president of refreshment at Unilever, has said “Tea is the most consumed beverage in the U.K., with nine billion PG tips teabags sold every year […] our latest move maintains the same great taste of our tea whilst minimizing our environmental impact.” Polypropylene, a sealant used across the industry to ensure bags hold their shape, is the main culprit for such high plastic use and PG Tips’ teabags will be completely free of it, along with their tea bags being completely 100% plant-based by the end of the year.
Now it’s time for other companies to follow suit. If every popular tea brand refused to use plastic in their tea bags, real change could happen. The Co-Op who sell 367 million tea bags a year is working on a fully biodegradable tea bag for their own-brand Fairtrade 99 tea, estimating that they’ll be on sale by the end of this year. Ain’t that grand?