What I Learned Today – Tea Bag Tantrum

I love my composter. It was the first thing we built after buying the property because I knew there would be lots of garden cuttings, lots of leaf mold, lots of kitchen scraps. And it’s big – three bays, each large enough to drive a tractor bucket into, if we had a tractor! Big enough to rotate new and old, to sift, to allow the cold compost process do its work.

Then there’s the tea bag dilemma. We go through a few tea bags every day. For years, after brewing the perfect cuppa, the bag went into the compost bin. Until last year, when I realized, while sifting through the pile, that they weren’t composting as they used to. Upon closer inspection, the bags looked like pouches made of a very fine plastic mesh. Ugh! I started to pull the bags as I sifted and soon there was a small shopping bag full of them.

Some of last year’s tea bag collection
This week’s tea bags

I did a cursory internet search and it seems that a few years ago, Red Rose (the brand of Orange Pekoe we prefer) in Canada changed its bag material. When people have contacted them, asking about why they don’t decompose, they receive a Public Relations type answer that tries to portray the bags as an environmentally friendly alternative to paper bags:

“Our tea bag material is polylacic acid (PLA), which is an organic polymer made from plant sources which have been tested by independent laboratories and shown to be completely safe. The PLA material is not bleached. The bags are composed of 100% plant materials and are 100% compostable.”

Except, as I and many others have discovered, PLA may be compostable, but only in high heat industrial situations, not in a home composter. As one article states, it is degradable, but not biodegradable. Double Ugh!! This isn’t just a Canadian issue – for several years now, folks in England have noticed the same trend amongst various brands, and even started a petition to end it all. I think I’ll be finding plastic tea bags in my compost for several years to come, as I sift, and dump uncomposted bits back in the pile. And I think we’ll be switching to loose leaf tea, although there appears to be some brands that do not use PLA to make their bags. More research…

On the good news front, my compost pile this summer was good enough for at least one snake. I found this pile of eggs while sifting – I moved them to the active pile and hope all survived.

My compost sifter – still going strong after 20 years!
This year’s haul – doesn’t look like much eh? Hard to believe the bin, last fall, was full to the rim!


  1. Yes, this is an annoying trend along with those small plastic labels that they stick on fruit. Even though I’d prefer loose tea, it isn’t always easy to find it. Rishi is my favorite, but my grocery stopped carrying bulk and now carries just bags, which are, you guessed it, plastic, not to mention more costly. Grrr.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. From:

    “People were already known to consume microplastics via food and water, and to breathe them in. In particular, tea brewed using plastic-based teabags and drinking water sold in plastic bottles have been found to contain microplastics. Scientists are concerned that microplastics may carry pathogens or toxic chemicals into the body”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Things have changed since you posted this! Perhaps Red Rose got the message that we were not happy about microplastics in our tea bags. On the side of the current Red Rose tea box they proudly say “NEW tea bags… made from 100% renewable plant material which infuses our tea even better!” Well, thank goodness, because I couldn’t find a loose leaf tea that I like more than Red Rose.

    Liked by 1 person

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