Plastic in Tea Bags (and all the brands that don’t contain it)

A spot of tea… And some plastic? You’d probably be surprised to learn that most tea bags contain up to 25% plastic. In fact, we didn’t know about plastic in tea bags until we watched a viral BBC video about tea production in 2017.

Plastic in Tea Bags & How to Avoid It

Hot food or beverages and plastic don’t mix. Heat can cause the chemicals from plastic to leach into your food or drink, releasing carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

Canadian researchers published a study in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Environmental Science and Technology which found that steeping a single plastic tea bag at brewing temperature releases about 11.6 billion minuscule particles known as “microplastics” and 3.1 billion “nanoplastics” into each cup (source).

This article was originally published in June 2018 and updated in October 2023.

“We think that it is a lot when compared to other foods that contain microplastics,” Nathalie Tufenkji of McGill University in Quebec, told The New Scientist. “Table salt, which has a relatively high microplastic content, has been reported to contain approximately 0.005 micrograms plastic per gram salt. A cup of tea contains thousands of times greater mass of plastic, at 16 micrograms per cup.”

When you look at a tea bag, plastic usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet about a quarter of each tea bag (from most brands) is comprised of this substance. You can watch how tea bags made (see it here) to see how plastic is incorporated.

Why Is Plastic in Tea Bags?

It may be hard to believe, but most brands of bagged tea contain plastic. With millions upon millions of cups consumed daily, this adds up to a lot of plastic.

So why is plastic in tea bags to begin with?

In order for the tea bags to seal up and keep their shape in hot liquid, a plastic polymer, namely polypropylene, must be added. Even though the amounts of plastic found in tea bags is minimal — and vary between manufacturers — it adds up to quite a bit when you look at the big picture.

Due to the plastic content, conventional tea bags cannot completely decompose. This makes them a bad option for compost material and the environment… not to mention your body!

Are you surprised to learn that most tea bags contain up to 25% plastic? We're discussing why there is plastic in tea bags and how you can avoid it.
Compost images by Simple Ecology

Like most plastics, polypropylene is known to adversely affect the body’s endocrine system (source). And as we’ve covered many times, endocrine disruptors can lead to a plethora of health issues and other maladies that can become chronic conditions (source).

One would think making the switch to plastic-free tea bags would be easy, but many tea manufacturers protest that non-plastic bags would be too costly to implement.

How to Avoid Plastic in Tea Bags

Although some of the bigger tea brands seem hesitant to make the switch to plastic-free bags, you don’t have to wait to start drinking tea the safer and eco-friendly way.

Many tea bags are made from paper that has been sealed with a plastic sealant. These are less of a health risk than the usually pyramid-shaped tea bags, which are usually made entirely from plastic.

You can choose brands that don’t use bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, or polypropylene. Other great options are tea bags made from organic cotton, hemp, or certain plant fibers.

One more concern to be aware of is PFAS (Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances also known as “forever chemicals”). Much more research is needed on these, but here is helpful advice on avoiding PFAS in tea bags.

Tea Brands That Don’t Use Plastic in Their Bags

Further down, you’ll see other fool proof options like loose leaf tea. Personally, I use loose leaf most of the time, but tea bags are much more convenient for travel and the days I need to get out of the house in a hurry.

So, after reaching out to several brands or receiving emails once they saw this article, we created a list of brands that have confirmed they do not use plastic in their string-and-tag teabags.

Numi Organic Tea – “We’ve been concerned about the potential health risks of steeping chemicals in hot water since day one. We use biodegradable, unbleached Manila hemp fiber for our tea bags. They are Non-GMO verified and will degrade over time in a normal compost heap.” – Ahmed Rahim, CEO and co-founder of Numi Organic Tea.

Clipper Tea – They announced on their website in 2018, “We are so proud to have launched the world’s first plastic-free, unbleached and non-GM pillow tea bags.” They updated their statement in 2020 to explain, “We were the World’s 1st tea company to make ALL our heat seal teabags, unbleached, non-GM plant-based & fully biodegradable. When we said plastic-free teabags, we meant our tea bags are free from polypropylene otherwise known as petro or oil based or fossil fuel based plastic.”

They now go on to explain, “Clipper teabags are sealed with a non-GM bio-material made from plant cellulose, known as PLA, also known as bio-plastic. PLA is made from bio material, is fully biodegradable and nothing like the damaging oil-based plastics that people are rightfully concerned about. Now in 2020, the regulations about how we talk about PLA have changed and all the tea companies are going to talk about PLA as plant-based and biodegradable, rather than plastic-free.”

Republic of Tea – “Teabags from The Republic of Tea come in our signature unbleached round paper teabags with no unnecessary strings, tags, or staples – the same way we have been making great tasting tea bags for over 27 years.  The Republic of Tea does not make nylon or silken tea bags.”

Earth Mama Organics – Their team responded to our email request with this information, “Our tea bags are made from wood pulp and abaca with just enough thermoplastic fibers to make sure they stay closed. Because all of Earth Mama’s teas are 100% USDA Certified Organic, this includes the paper tea bags, which are not processed with chlorine, dioxins, and/or epichlorohydrin, and have been analyzed and approved for Non-GMO Project Verified status.”

Pukka Herb teas – Their website states: “We use a simple stitch of organic cotton and a unique folding process. This means we don’t need to use polypropylene to hold our teabags together and our teabags are free from plastic. We were the first company to ever use organic strings to hold our teabags together without the need of a metal staple or polypropylene.”

Yorkshire Tea – As of September 2021 Yorkshire has transitioned away from plastic. There still could be some of the old plastic bags on shelves, so here’s how to tell which packaging contains the new bags.

Tielka – In 2017, Tielka started packaging their Fair Trade teas in a plant-based tea bag fabric that comes from a sustainable, bio-renewable source. According to their site, “We also opted not to seal our tea bags with harmful glue, but by ultrasound.” Tielka tea bags are also industrially compostable.

Teapigs

Tea Tonic

Nature’s Cuppa

Twinings – “Our premium hot and cold ‘mesh’ tea bags look as though they are made from plastic, but this is actually a corn-starch derived material that will also degrade when industrially composted. We are also working to transition our inner wrappers to a material that is fully recyclable. Furthermore, our new and innovative Cold Infuse product range is currently packed in a fully recyclable plastic jar. Both the lid and the jar are recyclable, and we currently have a project underway to review what alternative materials we could use to make this product even more sustainable.

“For our 3 Organic blends we are in the process of sourcing a certified, non-GM biodegradable plant-based tea paper that doesn’t compromise on taste, and we look to move these blends to the new material as soon as possible.”

PG Tips – Following consumer pressure in 2018, PG Tips announced it was going ‘plastic-free’ for its pyramid bags, with the rest of its teabags following that. Now they report, “Our biodegradable teabags are made from PLA which is a material derived from corn, grown in the US. Current US corn growing practices produce a mixed stream of GM and conventional (non-GM) corn. However, the processing and manufacturing process uses a high heat process, and no detectable GM material remains. Longer term, we are working with our supplier on the development of biodegradable teabags from other sources that are non-GMO crops.”

Aldi – In June 2021, Aldi confirmed they were removing single-use plastic from their brand range of teabags. Now all of Aldi’s own brand tea – including decaffeinated, and fruit and herbal infusions are made from PLA – so are industrially compostable.

About Those Tea Bags Made With Polylactic Acid (PLA)

This is where it’s still a little murky.

Brands were using petroleum based plastic, and many have moved on to using polylactic acid (PLA) so they can claim to be “plastic free”. This is a plant-based polymer (sometimes referred to as a bioplastic). It is biodegradable, and appears to be better for the environment.

But how much better for your health is PLA when it comes to drinking microplastics?

Well, plant material sources include corn starch, which can come from genetically modified (GM) maize. So that can’t be used in brands labeled as organic teabags.

And here’s an interesting finding from a September 2022 study on petroleum-based and plant-based teabags:

Teabags mostly made of cellulose or cellulose blended with a bioplastic present in a smaller ratio, are a better alternative to petroleum-based or pure PLA plastics, in terms of rapid environmental degradation. Further studies should focus on their ecotoxicity, additive presence, microbial degradation and life cycle in order to draw a full environmental assessment.

It might remind you of the trend away from plastic sippy cups to BPA free when we weren’t fully knowledgable of the safety of the new (and still plastic) cups.

This confusion is why I’m trying to drink mostly loose leaf tea.

Other Ways to Avoid Plastic in Tea

If you’re still worried about PLA or what exactly a brand means by plastic-free tea bags, you might feel better choosing an option that doesn’t allow for hot water to make contact with anything but the tea itself.

Choose Loose Leaf Tea

If you’ve used bagged tea because you thought loose leaf was too much trouble, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Organic loose leaf tea can be made just as conveniently and it’s typically more flavorful because the tea leaves haven’t been ground to dust to fit into a tiny plastic-riddled tea bag!

Many organic loose leaf tea brands come in easy to store tins or eco-friendly packaging.

Good Earth
Numi Organic Loose Leaf Tea
Golden Moon Organic Tea
The Tao of Tea 
Firebelly Tea – I’ve been using this little tea strainer for a few years now. It’s so easy and you can keep it in the stainless container to brew again if you need another cup soon.
Mountain Rose Herbs Teas
Golden Wattle Tea (Australia)

Loose leaf tea is a more economical choice since it is priced by weight, while tea bags are priced per bag. You can also reuse loose leaf tea to make a second cup to cut expenses and waste. 

And you can buy loose leaf tea in bulk. This involves as little waste and plastic contamination as possible, but loose leaf tea can also be purchased in cans or boxes if bulk is not an option for you.

You can also grow tea leaves yourself. Some of the herbs used to make tea are fairly easy to care for, and knowing where your tea leaves are coming from can give you that extra sense that what you’re drinking is healthy.

I started growing cranberry hibiscus in one of my raised garden beds this year and probably have enough leaves to dry and make tea for the next three years!

How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea Without Plastic

There are plenty of simple ways to avoid plastic tea bags. One way that doesn’t require any new kitchen purchases is to boil water on the stove top and pour it into a mug of loose leaf tea.

If you don’t want to drink tea leaves, strain it with a stainless steel strainer or a piece of cheese cloth you can wash and reuse.

A stainless steel tea infuser eliminates plastic contamination and the need for straining. Pour hot water into a tea mug and steep with loose leaf tea in the infuser for 3 to 5 minutes.

This electric kettle makes heating water extremely fast and easy.

This glass tea kettle comes with a stainless steel infuser. We add filtered water, turn on the gas stove, and add two teaspoons of loose leaf tea to the infuser as the water is heating. The process takes about 7 minutes from start to simmering in your favorite mug.

For Keurig users – Instead of buying single-use pods (10 billion of them end up in landfills each year) to brew tea in your Keurig, get a stainless steel refillable pod to use again and again. Simply scoop about two teaspoons of loose leaf tea (or coffee) into the pod and use your Keurig as usual. One of the Green Child team members used the same stainless cup for 8 years and it’s still in perfect condition.

Try Tea Crystals

You can skip the brewing process altogether with Pique Tea crystals (find them at Pique’s website or on Amazon). Mix them in either cold or hot water – and watch them dissolve with no tea bag required – for a delicious tea that is loaded with beneficial polyphenols.

Pique comes in a cardboard box that contains small plastic packets of tea crystals. You pour the tea crystals out of the packet, so heat and plastic are never combined. It’s kind of like some non-plastic tea bags that are packaged in a plastic sleeve (that you also throw away before using). If you’re trying to eliminate single-use plastic, then you’d want to go with all-paper options.

Pique Tea Crystals - brew tea (hot or cold) without plastic

Their unique teas are composed of supercharged 100% organic tea crystals, which are Cold Brew Crystallized, meaning they deliver maximum antioxidant capacity – 6x the antioxidants of tea bags and 20x the antioxidants of bottled tea. Plus you’ll find no preservatives, sugar, or additives in these little packets.

Tea crystals from Pique are concentrated and deliver 12X the antioxidants of other teas. Plus they are triple toxin screened for pesticides, heavy metals and mold so it’s safe to drink every day. They also screen their teas for pesticides, heavy metals, and mycotoxins (toxic mold).

There are plenty of options that can give you the tea you love while also protecting the environment and your health. That way you can enjoy the numerous health benefits of tea without any of the side effects of plastic.

You might also enjoy these articles:
The problem with single-use plastic and how you can avoid it
The health benefits of matcha tea
The 15 most important steps to go green

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23 Comments

  1. It’s “Twinings” one “n”, not Twinnings.

    1. Amity Hook-Sopko says:

      Spell check still wants to change it back, but thank you for the catch 🙂

  2. Paper tea bags are useful at work, because my office doesn’t have a compost bucket., Do you know if paper tea bags meant for loose-leaf tea also have micro-plastics? I have seen T-Sac paper tea bags at shops near me. They say that their product is compostable. But I don’t know if there are regulations about what “compostable” means on product information.

  3. good. but must be mindful of your kettle type as well as the bags. electric kettles have microplastics too.

  4. I had no idea plastic was used to make tea bags! I drink teas from Yogi and Traditional Medicinals and checked to see if they use plastic in their teabags and I’m happy to report they do not. Both websites contain a lot of information regarding their packaging. While mostly a coffee drinker and only occasionally a tea drinker I will consider loose tea in the future. Thank you for this article!

  5. Frédéric Verville says:

    Hi Amity,

    I am the founder of PilKi and we offer Labrador Tea infusions. We offer loose tea leaves and won multiples awards in Canada. We’d love to be included in this list. Our website is pilki(dot)ca
    Thank you so much!

  6. K McGregor says:

    What a rude awakening article and not in the bad sense! I had no idea polypropolene was used in tea bags! Had I known this years ago, I would have changed to loose leaf teas. I’ve since switched to Ohn Market’s loose teas and biodegradable tea bags.

  7. Lisa Song says:

    Hi Amity,

    I am Lisa the founder of Golden Wattle Australian tea . I have been in tea business for over 10 years and I am sincerely worried about the damage of tea bag to the environment as well as to our health. Thats why I started my tea brand with only loose leave tea and tried my best to resist the temptation of using tea bag as I believe we shouldn’t compromise our planet and our health just for some convenience. I would love to invite you to try our tea if possible.

    1. Amity Hook-Sopko says:

      Thanks for putting Golden Wattle Tea on our radar, Lisa!

  8. I believe Yorkshire Tea now manufacture their teabags with zero plastic. I had reason to write to them because I had bought a batch, some of which were splitting. They replied and apologised, explained that they were in the process of making the switch to ‘non-plastic’ and sent me two large boxes of the new bags to compensate.

    1. Amity Hook-Sopko says:

      Thanks so much for commenting, Stuart. We’ve just updated the article with their statement. This is really helpful!

      1. Rebecca Domorev says:

        Hi Amity, I am the founder of Tielka, we have won 17 awards for our organic, Fairtrade tea collection and in 2017 we started packaging our loose leaf teas in a plant-based tea bag fabric that comes from a sustainable, bio-renewable source. We’d love to be included in this list. Our website is https://tielka.com and you can find information on our teabags too – https://tielka.com/pages/plastic-free-teabags
        Thankyou so much! 🙂

        1. Amity Hook-Sopko says:

          Thanks for letting us know, Rebecca. Your packaging is beautiful, by the way! We’ve just made the update. Keep up the great work 🙂

  9. My question to the editor of this article:
    Can you still use the bagged tea by removing the leaves to transfer them to a steel or alternate infuser to make tea?
    Suggestions please for those who want to transfer from polytherene teabags.

    1. Amity Hook-Sopko says:

      Yes, I’ve done this with tea we’ve been gifted or after helping my mom transition out of her old brands. It’s a great way to keep from wasting tea. A slight downside is that the tea leaves have usually been ground up really small, so you may end up with a little more residue in the bottom of your mug.

  10. Lynn Carmichael (Ms.) says:

    No, there is no transparency, no pun intended, and no full disclosure, even at this late date, regarding the materials and compounds used in teabags, on the packaging. I give Red Rose credit for disclosing to you, but what a shock! If it’s too toxic for a compost heap, those teabags shouldn’t be infused in very hot water and the contents consumed!
    Tea consumption is finally coming under way overdue scrutiny; after all, it’s the second-most consumed beverage in the world!

  11. I’ve used plenty of tea bags and I’ve never had any trouble with them. I want to start making my own tea and tea bags but I thought about sealing them off my sewing the sides shut with needle and thread. Would using store bout tea bags really be harmful to the body? wouldnt it take years for the effects to finally start presenting themselves?

    1. Amity Hook-Sopko says:

      Hi Britany,
      The needle and thread idea is interesting. If you’re an avid tea drinker, I don’t see how you’d have enough time to do it.
      And I think the problem with “micro” toxins is that we’re already being bombarded with tiny amounts of toxins from other items every day. Nearly every manufactured product has a tolerance or an allowable level of something that’s less than ideal. Maybe they’ve tested for those levels (maybe not), but they’re generally not factoring in all of the other allowable levels of harmful chemicals and that’s what contributes to the overall body burden.
      Really appreciate you taking the time to comment 🙂

  12. Hi Nan, This is months after your post but I found out years ago Red Rose Tea bags are made with polypropylene. I had contacted them to see if they made tea bags without staples (they staple string to tea bag for dipping) so I could drop them in my compost pile w/o having to remove the staples. Customer service responded to me that I shouldn’t use their tea bags for compost because they contained polypropylene. I’ve since switched to fresh tea and a metal tea infuser. I’m sure you’ve talked to Red Rose by now but wanted to add my comment just in case. Unfortunately, the bag’s materials weren’t published on the box at the time, maybe they are now.

    1. It’s years later, but I wanted to give an update. I just emailed Red Rose and received this response, “Thank you for taking the time to contact us here at Red Rose. Please be advised that the tea bags are made from a natural abaca fiber which is a natural alternative to using plastic material. Red Rose teabags do not contain plastics in the teabag material.”

      1. Ty so much for clearing this up ty indeed

    2. Thank you for the useful update on which brands to use. When the issue first came to light, I decided to move back into loose or home grown teas as much as possible but it’s not always easy to find this during the weekly shop. I don’t think the suppliers or retailers have really taken on board the public health issues either as the same few companies are now busy launching coffee bags with non biodegradable plastics in many cases. Another one to watch out for.

      1. Amity Hook-Sopko says:

        Using home grown loose leaf tea is one way to know for sure what’s in it!
        Regarding your mention of public health officials, it’s hard to know what’s on their radar and who is educating them (potentially special interests) about any health risks.
        Thanks for sharing your perspective!