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Is there Plastic in my Tea?

Many tea bags contain plastic. Ruth Walton from The Green Shopper, explains why this hidden plastic is significant, and what we can do as consumers. 

Many of you will have heard that some teabags contain plastic. Consumer awareness is growing fast, following the 2017 BBC2 documentary ‘Inside the Factory’ and the situation has improved since then.

Most ‘pillow’ and ‘pyramid’ style teabags rely on polypropylene fibres embedded in the outer layer to heat-seal the edges shut. Millions of teabags are home composted or put into food waste schemes. They end up in the soil, where the microscopic plastic fibres accumulate and pose a risk to wildlife.

This environmental pollution may be invisible, but it is not insignificant. With 165 million cups of tea drunk in Britain each day, that’s a whole lot of microplastic on its way into our soil and water.

Key points

  • Many tea bags contain plastic.
  • The alternative, Polylactic Acid (PLA), can contain material from genetically modified sources.
  • PLA teabags should go into council food waste, as they won’t break down in most home composting conditions.
  • The best way to dispose of plastic tea bags is to rip them open and compost the leaves, but put the bag into the bin.
  • Watch out for hidden plastics in sachets or string-and-tag bags.

What is microplastic?

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, officially defined as any piece of plastic less than 5mm in size. There are two categories: 

  • primary microplastics are up to 5mm in size when manufactured; 
  • secondary microplastics are small pieces made from larger items degrading in the environment.

Research has found them turning up in all sorts of places, including seafood, salt, tap water and even in our bodies.

What are plastic-free teabags made from?

Many ‘plastic-free’ pyramid teabags are made using polylactic acid (PLA). This is a plant-based polymer (sometimes referred to as a bioplastic) which is biodegradable but not domestically compostable. It can also be called Soilon. Plant material sources include corn starch, which can come from genetically modified (GM) maize, which cannot be used in organic teabags.

Following consumer pressure in 2018 when 200,000 people signed 38 Degrees petition, PG Tips announced it was going ‘plastic-free’ for its pyramid bags, with the rest of its teabags following that.

PG Tips confirmed “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.”

Which teabags are plastic-free?

In the tables below you can see which companies sell loose leaf and whether their teabags are plastic-free, use PLA, or are still using some plastic. Some companies have made changes to their teabags quite recently. If you’ve got some old packets in your cupboard, check what the packet says.

Plastic in teabags - best companies (plastic free)
Company Products and plastic-free teabags (best)
Clearspring Loose leaf and teabags
Essential Teabags
Hambleden Herbs Loose leaf and teabags are mostly plastic-free, switching to fully plastic-free as stocks run out
Hampstead Tea Loose leaf and teabags
Heath and Heather Teabags
Higher Living and Dr Stuart’s Loose leaf and teabags
Postcard Only sell loose leaf
Pukka Teabags
Qi Loose leaf and teabags. The company told us that its previous supply of plastic-free teabags was interrupted but that it will start using them again by July 2022
Teapigs Loose leaf and teabags
Yogi Tea Loose leaf and teabags
Plastic in teabags - middle companies: using some PLA, or in process of switching or with clear, dated plans to switch.
Company Products and plastic (middle)


Teabags. Also sells loose leaf.
Dragonfly Organic range is plastic-free, tea pyramids contain PLA. Also sells loose leaf.
Eleven O’clock Teabags
Good Earth Teabags. Also sells loose leaf.
Greenypeeps Teabags are plastic-free and tea pyramids contain PLA.
London Tea Company Teabags are plastic-free and tea pyramids contain PLA. Also sells loose leaf.
PG Tips Teabags contain PLA. Also sells loose leaf.
Revolver World Coop Tea Pyramid teabags contain PLA
Tick Tock Teabags contain PLA. Also sells loose leaf.

Typhoo, Fresh Brew, Glengettie, Ridgways

Teabags contain plastic, switching to all PLA by

April 2022. Also sells loose leaf.
Plastic in teabags - worst companies: still using some plastic or no/unclear information
Company Plastic and products (worst)
Floradix Teabags which according to the company website “are sealed using natural products,

and are made from paper and string”
Steenbergs Mostly sell loose leaf but sells small number of pyramid tea bags which contain

Tetley Teabags contain plastic, currently switching to PLA teabags starting with the Tetley

Original brand
Thompsons Teabags, no information about plastic. Also sells loose leaf.
Traidcraft Teabags are not plastic-free, moving to PLA teabags for bulk (1000 teabag) box. Also sells loose leaf.
Twinings/Jacksons Teabags contain plastic. Also sells loose leaf.
Yorkshire Tea Some teabags use PLA (Yorkshire Tea, Yorkshire Gold, Yorkshire Tea Decaf

and Yorkshire Tea for Hard Water), and some still use plastic (Biscuit Brew, Toast & Jam Brew, Bedtime Brew). Also sells loose leaf.

(Information was taken from company websites, Facebook pages, or communication with the company in February and March 2022.)

NB This only covers the teabags themselves, not sachets they may be wrapped in, or wrapping on the box. It also only covers brands in our Tea and Herbal Tea guides.

What about organic teabags?

You may be thinking to yourself “I’m fine – I only buy organic teabags”. Don’t be fooled. The outer layer of a teabag counts as packaging, which can contain plastic and still be certified as organic. Sign the petition by The Green Shopper to ask the Soil Association to stop certifying plastic teabags

‘String and tag’ bags

The other main type of teabag is the ‘string-and-tag’ style, where the paper layer is folded at the top and secured using a stitch or staple. These bags are usually used for herbal teas or in catering.

Not all string-and-tag bags are plastic free: look out for crimping around the edges which shows the bag might have been heat-sealed, and therefore contain plastic or PLA. Furthermore, they often come in individual sachets, which can contain a hidden layer of plastic to keep the packet airtight. The string can be made from polyester or cotton.

String-and-tag bags that are free from plastic can be composted at home. If you want to be completely sure your teabag is plastic free, it’s best to check with the manufacturer directly.

What about loose leaf?

If you want to minimise the waste caused by your daily cuppa, loose leaf tea is by far the best option.

Infographic: Guide to brewing Loose Leaf Tea

A metal in-cup infuser avoids the fuss of a pot and strainer. And lots of modern teapots have a built-in infuser, meaning that it’s easy to get the tea leaves into the compost and wash out the pot without clogging the sink.

Many high streets and markets have speciality tea merchants, where you can take your own container to be filled. These shops often have limited choice when it comes to fair trade and organic options but, luckily, there are a few plastic-free ethical loose-leaf options available to order online. Our guide to tea has more details.