tea set

I am absolutely convinced that if the world was destroyed tomorrow by a fleet of Vogon spaceships and I happened to be the last human alive dressed in my dressing gown and pyjamas, like Arthur Dent, I would be on a constant search for a cup of tea.  I find it impossible to get started on the day without spending time topping up my tea reservoir.  Sometime around 3pm I reach my limit and that is the end of the tea for the day.

As you possible gather I like a good cup of tea!

Making a cup of tea without plastic has been something of an education though.

Who would have thought that making a cup of tea has got me thinking about the tension between the ethics and economics of consumption?

We have always used Co Op 99 tea bags but it is difficult trying to find tea that isn’t wrapped in non recyclable single use plastic! After a bit of research I was actually shocked to learn two things.

  1. Most teabags use plastic mesh to help hold the paper together
  2. Biodegradable is not the same as compostable

It may seem like a tiny amount of plastic going into the environment but keep in mind that in the UK we drink 165 million cups of tea daily, 96% of which use tea bags. In the light of the above two points it made me think about how language can be used to mislead consumers, especially when it comes to marketing.

Compostable means that something will break down on a compost heap due to the action of bacteria.  Biodegradable means something different.  For example a plastic carrier bag will break down so long as it is “ideal conditions”.  If it isn’t in such conditions then there is the potential for it to sit around for a very long time, in spite of its biodegradable status.  Wanting to use my waste in my compost for growing food, coupled with being an obstinate bugger, I set out to see if zero waste tea was an option.

I guess the first stage was to go from tea bags to tea leaves.  Good idea, but then where do you buy tea leaves that don’t come wrapped in plastic.  All the supermarkets seem to sell tea in plastic!

Having done a bit or research I concluded the initial step was to buy tea in bulk.  For this we found St Martin’s Coffee.

The tea is very good quality but I would accept that not everybody would be in a position to afford this option.  Also I am not sure about the nature of the plastic film lining the paper bags, but bulk is at least a step in the right direction. (I really should ask them one of these days!)

Then there came the question of the tea pot.  There are lots of tea pots out there with a range of prices. Given our commitment to tea and its consumption we went for this thing (much cheaper if you buy it in the Highcross).

We don’t take sugar so that wasn’t an issue and we get milk from the milk man so that solves that problem.

We were nearly there, but the tea we were buying in bulk still came with a layer of plastic as a lining.  Then we discovered The Plastic Free Pantry.  Their tea is wrapped in an organic film called “Natureflex”, which is fully compostable and fine to put on the compost heap.

So zero waste tea is an option, but does it come with a cost?

Questions and Musings

I clearly enjoy tea, and I enjoy the tea we are drinking now more than any tea I have had.

This particular quest though has made me think about the ethics and economics of trying to be a more responsible consumer, plastic waste aside.

I am fortunate enough to be in a position to pay a bit more for things, but I do understand that many people are not.

To some extent it is a matter of supply and demand.  If there are a lot of people buying a thing then it is possible to increase turnover, reduce costs and then sell it on more cheaply.  This gives supermarkets a huge advantage over smaller suppliers.  For example with milk they are able to negotiate much cheaper prices, even if it means driving UK dairies into the ground.  The same is true of any product.  It is my theory however, that the cost of say selling tea is the same however you buy it.  The question is not how much does it cost? The question really is who foots the bill?

So far in looking at the economics of zero waste it has been swings and roundabouts.  Some things are turning out to be more expensive; however other things, such as shopping at Leicester market are much cheaper.  If anything, I am detecting a reduction in the weekly spend on shopping, however I one day need to sit down and do the maths on this.