Are teabags toxic and can I compost them?

Around the world, it is estimated that 2 billion people drink tea every morning.  Americans consume around 80 billion servings of tea a year and British people consume around 60 billion (96% of these are tea bags). 

What happens to all those tea leaves and tea bags?

Well, after making a cuppa, most people seem to toss the tea bags or tea leaves in the bin. In the UK apparently tea is one of the largest 'avoidable food wastes' in bins. Britain alone throws out 370,000 tonnes of tea bags and tea leaves each year. I am assuming that a similar type of figure would apply to Australia (proportioned to population size).

Can I compost teabags?

Tea bags could be thrown in the compost - or could they?  I used to think that the paper ones were fine, but now I find out you probably need to tip out the contents and bin the bag! Who except the most dedicated person is going to do that?

There are different types of tea bags and it seems that a small percentage of them are actually biodegradable.

Quite a lot of 'premium' tea bags are now made of nylon, rayon, thermoplastic or PVC  and cannot be composted. These tea bags by the way leach when hot water is poured on them - so avoid them, also because these plastic teabags are definitely not biodegradable. 

Nylon teabag pyramid - non biodegradable.

You'd think you'd be safe with the old paper version, but sadly most paper tea bags are also plastic infused, making them only 70-80% biodegradable. Also in order to stop some tea bags bursting open, many are sealed with a strip of heat-resistant polypropylene plastic.

Interestingly, paper tea bags are typically not made from wood pulp but from the fibres of a plant called abaca, similar to banana.

Unless you buy from an environmentally-friendly company which uses unbleached bags, most tea drinkers consume clean, white tea bags that are the result of intensive chemical processes. 

Many paper teabags are also treated with epichlorohydrin to strengthen the paper bag in water. 


Here's a couple of facts I found out about epichlorohydrin:

Worse still, when epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it changes into a chemical which has been shown to cause cancer in animals, and also been implicated in infertility and suppressed immune function1.

Chemicals in tea growing?

In addition, it's a well known fact that many tea companies use pesticides in tea agriculture. A report from Greenpeace released in 2015 said that 34 pesticides were found in typical tea.  This is not great for your health, but it is also atrocious for the health of the tea workers. Check out this report from the BBC . 

(Source: Essential tea)

What to do?

Loose leaf organic, fairtrade tea and homegrown tea are the best options.
Some extra links:

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