Breakthrough in the slow-brewing British trend for an eco-friendly cup of tea


After protest over microplastics, Co-op eventually launches its own plastic-free tea bags

In the battle against the global plastic tide, mass-produced tea bags became an unlikely goal when it emerged that the industry-standard seal that helps maintain their shape is made of polypropylene and is not biodegradable. The delay in the plans of the Co-op illustrates the difficulties of manufacturing alternatives that do not collapse or disintegrate in the cup.

Following pressure from a high-profile national request, major tea brands and supermarkets have publicly committed to transitioning to plastic-free tea bags, but it takes longer than anticipated to make the changes. Microplastics found in unborn baby placentasContinue readingThe Co-op, which sells 367 million tea bags annually, announced in January 2018 that it was in the final phases of dev. The new bags were supposed to go on sale by the end of the year, but a supplier change caused delays as a number of prototypes failed to withstand testing. Last year, after test results reported in New Scientist revealed that a single bag releases billions of microplastic particles into each cup, tea drinkers were advised to stay away from plastic-containing tea bags. A team of Canadian researchers from McGill University in Montreal found that at a brewing temperature of 95 ° C, steeping a plastic tea bag in a single cup releases about 11. Efforts by major brands to turn to plastic-free alternatives were thwarted by restrictions on Covid-19. In November, Yorkshire Tea, which is part of Harrogate’s Taylors and substitutes oil-based plastic with plant-based plastic called PLA in its tea bags, revealed that it had moved to just one-fifth of its products.

The transition to biodegradable pyramid tea bags was completed by Unilever-owned PG Tips – the UK’s largest tea company – in July and is now withdrawing the plastic wrapping from its boxes. It hasn’t been without its challenges, but we’re pleased to be the first big tea brand to deliver a truly biodegradable tea in a plant-based packaging,” said Fiachra Moloney, Unilever UK and Ireland’s tea director. Greenpeace UK’s Sam Chetan-Welsh, said, “Plastic is everywhere – in our oceans, in the food we consume and in the air we breathe – but scientists are only beginning to understand it.


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