A friend called last week’s edition my plastic mike drop. I was not my usual cheery self, I will admit that. But really, who would be, or could be, after seeing the picture of the dead whale stuffed full of plastic bags and seeing just how much we are trashing — literally trashing — our planet.
If only we could click our fingers and plastic would be gone but sadly, it is ubiquitous. It has seeped into our lives in ways we just don’t realise or can easily undo. We can decide to go plastic free but, as I have found anyway, going beyond boycotting plastic bags, plastic wrap, plastic cutlery, plastic water bottles, plastic toothbrushes, is hard, particularly when plastic is sneaky and hides in places that would make a three-year-old playing hide and seek extremely jealous.
Like stockings. I had to buy stockings the other day, (that and underwear are the two things allowed to enter my wardrobe during my year-long ban on clothes purchasing). I felt extremely virtuous as I loudly rejected taking a plastic bag for my goods. It was only five minutes later, however, that I realised the duplicitous nature of my shopping adventure: while I had said no to a plastic bag, I had said yes to wrapping my legs in plastic. This is because stockings are made from nylon, which is made from polymer, which is a form of plastic, which is derived from oil. So much for living a plastic free life.
Traumatised by this, I returned to the office and decided to have an afternoon cup of tea, using a tea bag stolen from Deb’s secret stash that she keeps on her desk. I drop the teabag in my orange mug, walk to the kitchenette, engage in some witty banter with a work colleague on the way, feign disgust at the dirty dishes left in the communal sink, pour some boiling water into my cup, return to my desk and continue typing on my computer. “What’s the problem”, you ask? Sigh. Welcome to our plastic world.
Tea bags contain a thin film of polypropylene, an all too common plastic, along with a small amount of acrylic copolymer emulsion, a plastic-based glue, to seal the two sides of the tea bag together (keeping the tea inside the bag). If you’re using tea bags with a string and tag attached, then you’ve got even more polypropylene to contend with. Oh, how lovely.
True, it is a small amount of plastic, but it adds up quickly. Greenpeace estimates that in the UK, where 6 billion cups of tea are brewed each year, 150 tonnes of polypropylene are accumulated.
Where does the plastic on your teabag go? Until yesterday, I was putting the whole teabag, string and tag included, into the compost. Now that is over. Plastic doesn’t break down (remember the dead whale). It will just sit in your compost contaminating all the good stuff and, when the good stuff has composted, and you turn it out onto your garden, the plastic remnants will contaminate the soil. You will end up planting your vegetables in plastic, or the bits wash away and end up in the sea where the fish eat them and then you eat the fish and, voila, you become plastic.
Are all teabags equal? I started by checking out the tea that I steal from Deb. I checked this particular company’s website, but I couldn’t find any other information there, or anywhere. I did, however, find a statement on Facebook posted by the company in response to Todd, a concerned citizen, five years ago.
“Thanks for reaching out with your feedback. We want to make sure you have all the info on our products and let you know some plans we have in the pipeline. Our teabags are currently made from food safe nylon (nylon silk), but we want to make sure our teabags are friendly in every sense of the word so our product team has it on high priority to find a better way to brew in bags. The project is underway so that we can keep improving.”
I checked out the tea Husband drinks, which is in my cupboard at home and goes into my compost. Again, the only information I could find was on Facebook where the company had posted this response to Kylie:
“Our paper is manufactured from a specially selected blend of high quality manila hemp. This has been oxygen whitened, ie. not treated with chlorine or chlorine-based compounds. The paper also includes a small percentage of cellulose and thermoplastic fibres. These are necessary to ensure the sealing of the bags…The thermo-plastic fibres in the paper are not chemically broken down in any way so as to leach into the infused beverage — so it is 100% safe when used for the purpose it was made for. However, the heat seal paper is not 100% bio-degradable due to small amount of thermo-plastic fibre it contains.”
Of course, not all tea bags do have plastic. In fact, for the company above, I have read elsewhere that its fancier range is plastic-free and biodegradable, (why it would do this for some teabags and not for others is a little odd though). There are links below that have lists of tea companies and whether or not their tea bags contain plastic — well worth checking out.
In the meantime, my desire for being plastic free has lead me to conclude that a loose leaf is a far better option. Although, sadly, they often they come wrapped in plastic bags too — at my local supermarket, they sell dried flowers that can be brewed to make tea. They are sold in plastic bags. Maybe, then, the best option of all is to not buy it at all. I don’t drink black tea and it may be way too hard to make that at home, but herbal teas are super easy. Cut up lemon and ginger, squeeze in honey, add some boiling water and there is your lemon, ginger and honey tea! Grow a camomile plant in the garden, (we have one, I just don’t know what to do with it yet). Drop some mint into some apple peel and boil in water for a minty apple tea. Drink tea from places where they pick your tea fresh from their rooftop garden (this does exist in Sydney)!
What makes loose leaf tea in a teapot even more appealing is that we get to bring back the tea cosy! I love a good tea cosy. Hot pink with pom poms would be awesome. (Sophia, Phoebe and Christine — this is a hint. I’d like to give a crochet tea cosy to Deb as we commence operation loose leaf tea it up in the office!)
As for non-nylon stockings, I may have solved that dilemma also. Take a look at Swedish Stockings from Sweden (of course)! Their stockings are created by nylon waste (so it is still nylon but it uses recycled nylon and the process is better for the environment, reducing both energy and water). They have a recycling club program where they encourage you to post back your old stockings (any brand) to them to be re-used again. (It would be interesting to compare sending them to landfill versus air miles from Australia and the energy used to recycle them — if someone could work out a formula for this that would be awesome.)
Plastic be gone!