Recycling tips

Can you recycle tea bags?


According to the International Tea Committee (ITC), Brits slurp down 100 million cuppas every day.

Not that we need an excuse to put the kettle on, but National Tea Day on April 21st is the perfect invitation. When we do, all but four per cent of brews will use a tea bag.

What can I do with my used tea bags?

For a long time, the simple answer was to send them to landfill. Once there, they would rot and contribute to harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

These days, most of us contribute to a food waste recycling collection operated by local authorities, which turns kitchen scraps into energy and fertiliser instead.

The advice from Recycle for Greater Manchester (R4GM), is to put tea bags and coffee grounds in your food and garden bin.

recycling tea bags

Are tea bags biodegradable?

Not entirely.

The actual tea leaves are 100% biodegradable, of course, as is most of the tea bag because it mostly contains natural plant fibres. However, a small amount of plastic sealant is often used to stop them falling apart in boiling water.

Usually this is polypropylene or nylon, chosen because it is resistant to heat and water. It doesn’t break down, though, meaning it will stay in the environment for a long time.

Fortunately, that is now changing. Many companies are looking for a more eco-friendly alternative.

WRAP, an independent charity that promotes and encourages the use of sustainable resources, believes making the plastic sealant compostable is the best way forward. A potential substitute is Polylactic acid (PLA), a product derived from plants.

recycling tea bags

Can I compost used tea bags at home?

Tea bags containing plastic are problematic because they can contaminate compost when recycled alongside other food waste.

According to the Recycle Now website, when you come to use the compost there is a ‘thin skeleton’ of the bag still visible after the leaves and paper have broken down. It recommends sieving out and discarding these membranes, as they are non-biodegradable polypropylene. Or you could rip open the bags before placing spent tea leaves on your compost heap and throwing away the bag separately.

The UK Tea and Infusions Association advises that tea bags sold as ‘biodegradable’ will break down in compost, although it will still take a long time.

That is because domestic compost heaps aren’t usually the right temperature or don’t contain the right combination of microorganisms to do the job.

recycling tea bags

What else can I do?

An alternative to tea bags is to try loose tea. Plenty argue it tastes better too!

Opting for a traditional teapot and strainer is certainly more convenient for throwing away leftover leaves.

Have a question for us?

Councils rarely pick up rubbish from commercial premises, which is where we come in. Fresh Start has established itself as one of the leading food waste collection companies in the North West. We provide branded receptacles – from wheelie bins through to high-capacity roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) containers – and tailored on-site training to educate workers on how to separate leftovers.

We promise to divert every scrap of your food waste from landfill and into an anaerobic digestion process at one of our partners’ facilities. From there, we convert it into clean and renewable energy.

To see more about Fresh Start’s waste collection, waste management, and recycling services or contact us.

Fresh Start Waste truck, forest carbon

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