Most Irish teabags contain plastic and aren't biodegradable, says research
Used to throwing your teabags in the compost bin?
Same, it's good to do your bit to help the planet. However, despite all of our best attempts to reuse and recycle more, it appears as though some of our efforts may still be in vain.
New research (conducted by Lyons Tea, naturally) has shown that although most people report putting their used teabags in the brown bin, most major Irish black tea bags aren't actually fully compostable.
A study conducted in University College Cork (UCC) revealed that out of nine tea brands in Ireland, just three have introduced biodegradable plastic into their products.
Researchers buried all the teabags in organic soil as per real-life environmental conditions, and saw that Lyons' teabags were the only ones to fully decompose within 75 days. Others remained fully intact or in brittle pieces by the end of the experiment.
Research lead Dr Alicia Mateos Cárdenas said: "While it is great to see that some tea brands are producing more environmentally friendly teabag solutions, two thirds of Ireland’s tea ranges still contain a petroleum-based plastic.
"It is important that all tea brands make the switch to fully plant based and biodegradable ranges, which will contribute to reducing plastic pollution.
"Consumers can control the impact of their tea drinking on the environment by educating themselves on which teabags contain plastic and consciously drinking a range that does not. It’s small changes like this that go a long way to protecting our planet."
The teabags that did not decompose at all are made from a petroleum-based plastic called polypropylene. This is a non-biodegradable plastic that can remain in the environment for a very long time.
According to Unilever's Tea Division General Manager Fiachra Moloney, Lyons has since removed 100 tonnes of petroleum-based plastic from their tea bags.
"This is the equivalent of 20 million standard plastic bags," he said. "We know Irish tea drinkers are looking for easy ways to reduce their plastic consumption and we’re hoping other tea brands in Ireland can follow Lyons Tea and become plant-based in the future.”
Elsewhere, environmentalists have been lobbying other major Irish tea brands to switch to plant-based teabags. Last December, protesters held a demonstration outside the Barry's Tea headquarters in Co Cork in a bid to encourage them to remove plastic from their products.
Barry's Tea Managing Director, Aidan Dunlea said this week: "At Barry's Tea, we have been innovating to deliver biodegradable teabags. For all of us here, sustainability is of enormous importance.
"As of November 2020 80% of our teabags produced were biodegradable. As of 6th April, all of Barry's Tea teabags produced in Cork for retailers nationwide are 100% biodegradable. For an independent, family-owned, Irish business we are proud of the sustainability targets we are reaching. The journey for better continues."