Tea time! Tea is one example of a daily purchase in which we need to look beyond “zero waste” and think about the larger issues. Tea was (and still is) a massive colonial commodity. To this day, workers are exploited and people are trafficked.
So what can we do? Choose Fair Trade and Organic tea when possible, and support local and BIPOC-owned companies. And yes, to make it lower waste, it’s also best to choose loose leaf tea with low-waste straining options if I can. These include:
- Metal tea strainers (there are a variety of options)
- Reusable cloth tea bags that can be washed (for people who prefer tea bags)
- Paper tea sachets (I prefer reusables, but for single-use, these are the best options. Look for sustainable sourcing and unbleached paper.)
Remember, many single-use tea bags (especially the “fancy” “silken” ones) contain plastic. And don’t be fooled by greenwashing, some tea bags claim to be made of biodegradable materials, but the glue used to hold them together is made from plastic! A 2019 study from McGill University showed that steeping tea in plastic teabags in hot water (“stressing” the plastic) releases “11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nano plastics [even smaller than microplastics] into a single cup of the beverage”.
Are you a tea person? What’s your favourite type? How do you make it as sustainable & ethical as possible?
References & learn more:
[2019. Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea. pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b02540]
[2020. Addie @oldworldnew, 16 Black-Owned Organic Loose Leaf Tea Brands oldworldnew.us/black-owned-organic-loose-leaf-tea-brands/]
[2020. Fairtrade International. Tea. info.fairtrade.net/product/tea]
[2014. The Guardian. The Tea Pickers Sold into Slavery. theguardian.com/global-development/2014/mar/02/tea-workers-sold-into-slavery.]
[2014. The Guardian. Indian Child Slavery. theguardian.com/world/gallery/2013/jul/20/child-slavery-india-assam-trafficking.]
[2015. NPR. Tea Tuesdays: How Tea & Sugar Reshapred the British Empire. npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/04/07/396664685/tea-tuesdays-how-tea-sugar-reshaped-the-british-empire.]
[2016. BBC. The Dark History Behind India and the UK’s Favourite Drink. bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-36781368.]