What's Really In Your Tea?

by Jo Macdonald

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I LOVE a good cup of peppermint tea, especially when the bag is left in and it gets that rich, full flavour.  Add a square (or two) of dark chocolate plus a good book and I am quite literally in heaven. 

Or at least I was...until a friend alerted me to this video.  

Seriously?!  

Plastic in teabags!  And, as someone who likes to leave their teabag in, that's a whole lot more plastic leaching into my drink and therefore me.  Ingesting plastic has been shown to disrupt hormones and cause a variety of health problems - not what anyone needs, and definitely not women over 40.  And, as we all know tea is a BIG industry with millions of cups drunk every single day worldwide of all flavours and varieties.  That's a whole lot of plastic being drunk - I'm suddenly loving that morning cuppa a little bit less right now!  

And a bit of time researching online showed that it's not just plastic we should be worrying about in our teabags:  

  • Many teabags are not biodegradable
  • The tea used in most teabags is actually the dust and broken bits, rather than the really good quality tea leaves meaning we're losing out on the best flavour and health benefits
  • Creating teabags (and all the other packaging) is a very labour intensive process (cue pollution & huge carbon footprint) that uses a large amount of paper and water, as well as plastic
  • Paper tea bags can often contain Epichlorohydrin, a compound which is used as a pesticide and becomes active when in contact with hot water - just a slight problem when being used for teabags! Epichlorohydrin has been linked to infertility and can harm your immune system - okay so disclaimer here, you're not likely to be affected by the occasional teabag, but realistically, how much tea do you drink and is it worth the risk? Erm, no was my answer!
  • Some teabags are bleached with chlorine, so that you get that nice clean white look - again, do you really want that in your mug!  
  • Tea companies often use a lot of pesticides on their crops, ones that definitely should NOT be ingested, and tea isn't always washed before it goes into your teabag
  • Some companies add 'natural' or 'artificial' flavourings to their teas and don't have to specify where these flavourings come from or if they are from Genetically Modified sources 

If , like me, you are pretty horrified by all this and are wondering if you have to abandon tea altogether, then I have some good news for you:  our great-grandparents were right...loose leaf tea is way better, and not just for fortune-telling.    Firstly it tastes much better and has more of the health benefits that tea offers.  Secondly, it is less labour intensive and therefore has a smaller carbon footprint than teabags.  Add to that the fact that it doesn't contain any plastic and you're onto a winner.  Look for organic brands that don't use pesticides and if possible opt for Fairtrade too.  

Personally, I'm feeling pretty keen to ditch the teabags and switch to loose leaf, and not jsut for me but for my whole family - I really don't like the idea of my kids ingesting plastic, chlorine, and pesticides.  I've just ordered this peppermint tea and am keeping my fingers crossed it's tasty enough to replace my usual teabag brand.  Now where's that teapot?

You can read our other articles on reducing plastic in your life here