Tea bags in your compost?

What is your experience? Until recently I've always composted my tea bags - despite the jokes. For 30 years there have been jokes in Europe about recycling: tea in the compost, the paper tag into the recycled paper, the staple into old metal, the cotton string - you get the drift.

To my horror the bags now appear to really be plastic, at least the ones of my favourite tea, which is NOT a cheap one. I first noticed it in the worm bin. The bags could still easily be identified after a year when the rest (tea, label etc) had rotted down. Even the staple had rusted away.

So I told myself that temperatures are not hot enough in a worm bin, totally ignoring the fact that recycling of my tea bags in my worm bin had worked till 2018. But now I'm finding the tea bags in my one year old compost as well.



  • ltwickey
    ltwickey Posts: 369 ✭✭✭

    I used to compost the entire tea bag up until about 3 years ago. I noticed a change in the how the actual bag felt and realized there was now plastic incorporated into the bags. Made me give up on store bought tea from then on. I make my own herbal tea only. Super easy to compost that!

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,396 admin

    I am not a tea drinker. At least not regularly. So I haven't noticed "plastic" tea bags. I wonder why manufacturers are using plastic? Is plastic that much cheaper to make than very thin cotton fabric? I would contact the tea company and find out the reason for the switch and what the bag is actually made of.

    When I do make tea it is generally a loose herbal tea so no bags. I have a tea ball but rarely use that. Its just as easy to rinse the leaves out of a tea pot instead of the stainless steel ball or mesh. So there is the solution. Try to find your favourite tea in a loose form and use it loose in a pot, in a tea ball or you can buy fabric and stitch up your own tea bags. I have also seen re-usable tea bags but I think they would be even harder to clean than a tea ball. I personally think that you get a better flavour when the tea is able to fully circulate in the water instead of being confined in a bag or tea ball.

  • Ferg
    Ferg Posts: 285 ✭✭✭

    I'm with @shllnzl - Love loose leaf tea. But I am one of those who makes their black tea as black as creosote with some cream. Also I make my own blends, so loose leaf is essential.

    But I am OCD enough that, if there is a tea I like and I can't get a loose leaf variety, I literally cut off the top of the bag and use just the tea. That makes disposing of the bags easy enough. Now, if it's truly expensive tea, it's a silk bag, and that can go in the compost. But most of these are nylon, which I also find quite sad, that I'd have an expensive or organic or specialty tea and have to eat the plastic (???!!!???!!!) with it. So... Out comes the scissors.

    @Brueck.iris the joke is alive and well in Germany; one of my favorite cartoons is a dark humor one about the aftermath of a natural disaster with the punch line being "but... can we mix plastic with bodies?" ... prolly offended someone there, but it does address the extreme nature of waste disposal in countries that don't have massive land wastage full of trash.

  • annbeck62
    annbeck62 Posts: 980 ✭✭✭✭

    I also use loose leaf tea. I've tried all different ways of brewing and currently am using a french press which makes it really simple and almost as convenient as using a tea bag.

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,753 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I depends on the type of bag, if paper then yes if plastic what I do is cut it open and brew the tea as a loose-leaf which then goes into the compost.

    COWLOVINGIRL Posts: 954 ✭✭✭✭

    I love tea! Especialy on a cold wintery evening!

  • greyfurball
    greyfurball Posts: 591 ✭✭✭✭

    Yes, many companies started the changeover about ten years ago.

    As for the reason, what I heard, it is a shelf life issue. On the shelf, if it is in a warm, damp environment, the tea bag will start to stain going back and forth between dry periods/ damp periods. So the plastic was introduced to counteract the effect of the stain issue. Makes sense but it does not help for those of us which always composted our bags.

    So yes, either cut open the bag before or after use and in the trash it must go. If you do have a favorite brand you like, contact the manufacturer and see what they are doing. Some still use an all cotton bag but I've seen the ones I use they still use a fabric bag but they always individually pack every bag in a paper wrapper also which keeps the bag dry.

  • Brueck.iris
    Brueck.iris Posts: 142 ✭✭✭

    Interesting, I hadn't considered shelf life as a reason. I wonder about the quality of the tea, if they prevent the tea bag from rotting by using plastic.

  • Brueck.iris
    Brueck.iris Posts: 142 ✭✭✭

    Personally I have now switched to 100% loose leaf tea now as well. It had been just quite handy to occasionally use tea bags, when I was busy in the garden and a neighbour popped by - or similar situations where you just want a quick cuppa without fuss.

  • Brueck.iris
    Brueck.iris Posts: 142 ✭✭✭

    Guess I have to make some tea bags myself now - to have handy for quick use situations.

  • Ruth Ann Reyes
    Ruth Ann Reyes Posts: 538 admin

    Are you talking about those triangular shaped organza tea bags? Like Mightly Leaf uses?

  • kbmbillups1
    kbmbillups1 Posts: 1,272 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I only buy paper tea bags and I feed them to my worms. They love them! The only thing left are the strings. If I remember I pull those off now before giving them to my worms.

  • OhiohillsLouise
    OhiohillsLouise Posts: 120 ✭✭✭

    The transition from bag to loose seemed like such a pain but now I am happy I did it. I got nice equipment and think nothing of it now. I can make by the cup or the pot. Mixing flavors is now even easier.

  • VickiP
    VickiP Posts: 586 ✭✭✭✭

    You can do a little research and find companies that still use fabric or paper bags, for a quick cup that is great. I too prefer loose leaf for my better teas and find that you can time them so that you aren't just waiting around for the pot to boil an the tea to steep.

  • gardneto76
    gardneto76 Posts: 528 ✭✭✭✭

    I do both tea bags & loose leaf.the bags are just so convenient for work. I typically use those for cold brewing, toss the bag in my cup of ice water in the morning. When I am ready for iced tea I take the cup out of my work freezer, which doesn’t freezer, pop the bag out & enjoy. The bag itself is tossed if plastic, otherwise tea, and anything compostable goes home & into the compost bin.

  • frogvalley
    frogvalley Posts: 675 ✭✭✭✭

    Tea bags that fold over may be made out of cotton and be biodegradable. Regular tea bags that need to have heat and pressure are probably made with at least a bit of plastic. It's cheaper and faster to make zillions of teabags with a heat sealer so that may be why they use them. People don't know or may not care that they are compostable, but not biodegradable.

  • Brueck.iris
    Brueck.iris Posts: 142 ✭✭✭

    That makes sense. I never thought about how they seal the bags.

  • Brueck.iris
    Brueck.iris Posts: 142 ✭✭✭

    @frogvalley, you're right: This should concern ALL of us - not just the people who still make old fashioned compost or use worm bins. I wonder how many plastic tea bags will be in our environment in 100 years time.

  • Melinda
    Melinda Posts: 123 ✭✭✭

    This is horrible. I had no idea. I buy strainers and use loose leaf, for the most part, but still buy some in bag form. I will have to sift through my compost pile now.

  • Momma Mo
    Momma Mo Posts: 138 ✭✭✭

    Yes, I have found it to be true on my favorite black tea gallon size bags (makes a gallon of black tea). I was very disappointed and had to dig them out of the compost bin.

  • marjstratton
    marjstratton Posts: 1,131 ✭✭✭✭

    Hmm. I know that Costco matche green tea is put in plastic bags. I have always put my other tea bags in the compost. I'll have to check out my compost pile.

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,753 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Starbuck's Teavana tea also appears to be in plastic bags.

  • Deb113
    Deb113 Posts: 42 ✭✭✭

    Wow, I had cut out tea, but have gone back just recently. Thx for all the info, I had better pay attention!

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,481 admin

    Thanks for the heads up. I had no idea about the tea bag situation, thought they were all paper! Have noticed in recent times that staples are disappearing.✔️ I've always composted tea bags. I love my Earl Grey in the morning. I'm going to email my fav Australian tea company and ask the question.

  • Desiree
    Desiree Posts: 255 ✭✭✭

    I will compost paper tea bags but I mostly use loose tea and a french press or tea pot with a strainer now.

  • I sadly just discovered that corn plastic (or polylactic acid aka PLA) was being used for tea bags when I purchased some Rishi tea. As soon as I felt the bag I knew something was up and I instinctively didn't want to submerge it in boiling water AND I didn't want it in my compost. PLA is marketed as Eco-friendly and biodegradable but once you research it you will discover that it requires special conditions to compost it properly and it contaminates other recycling. I went down this rabbit hole when a local juice shop was trying out new plastic cups which the shop owner thought could just be recycled like other plastics and realized she had been led astray. I hadn't discovered PLA tea bags until a month ago though. Here is a great article from 2006 giving you a lot of details about PLA: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/corn-plastic-to-the-rescue-126404720/

    As for me I avoid PLA whenever possible. I certainly don't want to pour boiling water over a GMO Corn PLA tea bag when i'm drinking the high quality tea for it's medicinal benefits so it will be bulk tea from here on out. I attempted to write a detailed review on the bagged Rishi tea but they never published it. Perhaps it's because they already had several others making similar comments about the PLA tea bags on other flavors.

  • Annie Kate
    Annie Kate Posts: 680 ✭✭✭✭

    OK, so that explains why tea bags are no longer composting. That's disturbing! Plastic, hot water, and soaking are not a healthy mix.

  • Sheila
    Sheila Posts: 105 ✭✭✭

    Makes me glad we have an excellent specialty tea shop in town that sells loose leaf teas and the paraphernalia to go with it if you like. I generally use a french press or cup strainer and compost the leaves when spent. Occasionally drink bagged tea but all of them are still in paper (gotta love your english tea!)

  • dimck421
    dimck421 Posts: 203 ✭✭✭

    When I brew organic loose tea leaves. I compost them. When I brew the Southern required sweet tea, Luzianne, I do not compost it.