Guide to composting tea bags

Composting tea bags

Benefits of composting tea bags

Many of us enjoy a daily cup of tea, or five! In fact, more than half of the US population drinks tea every day. And in 2018, Americans consumed over 84 billion servings of tea, more than 3.8 billion gallons. Britons, famous for their love of a good cup of tea, quaff another 36 billion cuppas a year, with 96% of these cups of tea made using tea bags. That’s a lot of tea bags and tonnes of tea leaves that are potentially entering our landfills.

So, why should we compost tea bags? Well, firstly, there are a lot of them! Tea bags and tea leaves sent to landfills will rot and putrify. Rotting food in our landfills is the second largest source of man-made methane emissions. And, secondly, moist tea leaves make fantastic composting material and break down easily. Your bokashi bucket and your garden soil will love them!

Can I compost tea bags?

Yes, absolutely (but with a few caveats!) Unfortunately, not all tea bags are created equally. To successfully compost tea bags, make sure to select certified compostable brands.

Problems with composting tea bags

Tea bags have been in use for over 100 years. Early tea bags were all made of silk and other natural fibers. But today, many tea bags contain plastic netting. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to know which tea bags can go in the compost and which should be landfilled. As a general rule, tea bags with plastic netting often feel slick to the touch and may have a visible heat-sealed edge.

Remember, plastic will not decompose in your bokashi bucket, your compost pile or in your garden soil. Plastic from tea bags is one of the most common sources of micro-plastics in our garden soils.

So how do you avoid adding unwanted plastics to your compost, yet still compost the dregs from your cup of tea?

Tips for composting tea bags

1. Use compostable tea bags

Avoid bags that contain plastic or synthetic fibres. Look for tea bags that are labelled certified compostable.

If you are unsure whether your tea bag is compostable, test one in your bokashi composter. Simply add the tea bag to your bokashi composter with the rest of your food waste. Bury the bokashi pre-compost (including the tea bag) as normal. Check back in 2 to 4 weeks and if the skeleton of the tea bag is still visible the tea bag is not compostable and likely contains plastics.

2. Rip open tea bags and compost only the tea leaves

If using non-compostable tea bags, simply rip open the used tea bags. Empty the tea leaves into compost and dispose of the empty plastic tea bag in the garbage.

3. Use reusable tea bags

There are lots of options for reusable tea bags and infusers. Simply add your favourite blend of teas to your reusable tea bag or infuser. Once finished empty the contents into your composter, rinse the reusable tea bag or infuser and repeat.

4. Skip the bag and use loose leafed tea

Better yet, why not skip the bag completely and just add the tea leaves straight into your teapot. Many tea companies and tea connoisseurs agree that loose leaf tea produces a healthier, better tasting cup of tea. Loose leafed teas tend to be fresher with whole leaves. By adding them directly to your pot there is plenty of room for the tea leaves to brew thoroughly. And no more steeping plastic tea bags in boiling water.

5. Grow your own

You can grow your own traditional tea from the ‘Tea Plant’ (Camellia Sinensis). However, the Tea Plant is not hardy and takes a couple of years to reach maturity for harvesting. Growing a tea plant to harvest may be a fun challenge, but it is unlikely to sustain most people’s tea habits. But do not be disheartened, there are plenty of alternatives that you can grow at home: mint (peppermint tea is very popular for tea, but any variety works well), bergamot, lemon grass, chamomile, nettles and more.

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