Kimberley Dawson from Sustainable Families Australia talks tea and teabags and why buying and drinking loose leaf tea is a cheaper and more environmentally smart option.

In Australia, we’ve an unequivocal love for the convenience of the tea bag. But what if your daily cup is impacting the environment, your health and your hip pocket more than you thought?

Here’s the lowdown on the impact of tea bags. With a few simple changes, you can set up your sustainable tea habit to save you money, your health and reduce environmental harm.

The benefits of going bag free

Avoiding plastic. Many tea companies utilise tea bags with a small amount of food-grade polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which provides strength to the bag. Some also use a small amount of synthetic fibres (plastic) to heat seal the bag. Stewed plastic tea anyone?

Saving money. As an example, when looking at one popular supermarket brand, a 50 pack of teabags will set you back $2.40 but you’re paying for only 100 grams of actual tea ($2.40 per 100g). For the same brand of loose leaf tea, you’ll pay $3.00 for 250 grams – only $1.20 per 100g, which is half the price!

Reducing waste to landfill. Tea leaves are great for compost, worm farms, bokashi systems or even straight on the garden. Most brands of tea bags however, are not. Tea bags contain synthetic fibres, plastic and/or staples and cannot be properly composted at home.

Avoiding chemicals. Most tea bags are bleached to make them more visually appealing. Australian companies mostly use an “oxygen” bleaching process which is reportedly less toxic and better for the environment, but cheaper brands may utilise chlorine bleaching which is far more toxic. Reduce the risk and go naked!

Setting up at home

For a simple tea station you’ll need:

  1. A tea pot strainer or glass pot. These range from around $10 – $30 but will last a lifetime if looked after. You can also utilise a normal tea pot and use a couple of metal tea strainers instead.
  2. A tea cup strainer or two. We love our metal ‘tea bags’ from Biome. They act just like a tea bag, are easy to fill and easy to wash. If you like to sew, you can also whip up some reusable tea bags out of organic cotton.
  3. A glass or tin jar to store your tea leaves.

Loose leaf = more sustainable

For loose leaf tea, you’ll find many supermarket tea bag brands are selling an equivalent loose leaf tea option. You can also source loose leaf teas from specialty tea stores and wholefood/bulkfood stores.

Our family favourites are Bushell’s loose leaf tea and Nerada loose leaf tea which both come in cardboard boxes with minimal packaging. When we can, we also opt for bulk, filling out jars at the bulk food store.

The beauty of using loose leaf tea is that you can dispose of it almost anywhere and avoid throwing anything in landfill. You can add it to the compost, a worm farm, a bokashi system or even just throw it onto the garden. It’s the perfect option for keeping your landfill bin empty.

Tea when you’re out and about

It can be difficult to avoid waste when we’re out and about, but once you start looking, it’s quite easy to find a more sustainable option for the everyday items like tea.

Most cafes who serve loose leaf tea will display their beautiful jars of tea near the counter making it easy for you to decipher that they will be a sustainable option. But if nothing is on display, it’s still worth asking. The more people start requesting loose leaf, the more likely cafes will start to adopt this as a better option.