A girl's quest to live on the greener side.

Zero Waste Tea: How to Avoid Plastic Tea Bags

zero waste tea

Confession time: I've never been a coffee drinker. I don't prefer the taste (though I do admit I like the smell when my dad brews it). However, I am an avid tea drinker. I have a nice cup of green tea every morning to get my mojo going. There are three ways to get zero waste tea: Grow it yourself (I'm currently growing mint), buy it in bulk (I do that for raspberry leaf, chamomile and hibiscus tea), and/or buy it in sustainable, compostable packaging (Yogi tea for the win!). I clearly do a mix of all three. My reason? Most tea bags are made from plastic. It's a sad truth for someone like me. This means any tea bags that are made from plastic will not biodegrade at all - though the tea leaves inside the bag will. Plastic tea bags are also bad for your health: When placed in hot water for your tea, the plastic leaches harmful, toxic chemicals straight into your drink. Yuck, no thanks. If you're like me (and want to keep plastic as far away from your tea as possible) you're in luck. Here's how to avoid plastic tea bags and brew a nice cup of zero waste tea.


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Zero Waste Tea
What's in your tea bags?

zero waste tea

I'd like to take a moment to talk about tea bags - not all are created equal. I know several tea brands that create completely compostable tea bags (which I'll talk about later). That said, most tea bags aren't that eco-savvy and are made with plastic. 

Lets break it down:

  • Regular pressed paper teabags with crimped edges: These contain plastic because these crimped teabags are pressed shut using heat, causing the plastic to melt to seal it together. Contains anywhere between 20 to 30 percent plastic. These usually come in square or circular bags.
  • Premium 'silken' type: Always made from plastic - no silk at all. Usually come in triangular bags.
  • String and tag variety: These are usually folded shut and secured with a staple or knot. Can be plastic free - but many suppliers still choose to use paper with plastic fibers (they say it adds extra durability).  
  • Organic tea bags: A majority of these contain plastic too...sadly. Unless stated otherwise on the package. 

If that's not upsetting, there's also the trouble with tea bag pouches - you know, the things you have to rip open to actually get the tea bag out? Very rarely do I open a tea box without seeing all the tea bags individually wrapped in a pouch. To make matters worse, most of these pouches are made from foil, plastic or paper. Paper is obviously the best option - at least it's compostable - but it just seems a little excessive and like a waste of resources. Couldn't they have just put the tea bags in the box without a protective layer you have to rip open anyway? 

Obviously, there are lots of hurdles to getting a simple cup of zero waste tea. But that doesn't mean it's impossible.

Zero Waste Tea
How to avoid plastic tea bags

zero waste tea


If this makes your head spin, I totally hear you. Thankfully, there are plastic-free options out there.
Here's how to brew yourself a lovely cup of zero waste tea.

Grow it yourself

zero waste tea

Got a green thumb? Perhaps you should consider growing your own tea! I've got a mint plant I bought at the farmers market on my windowsill. It's doing okay (nothing to brag about), and sometimes I'll snip off some leaves and stems to dry and store for later. I dry out the leaves by snipping off the best looking stems, tie them together with twine (which is compostable) and hang them from a hook on my door. I leave them like that for a day or so and they're ready to harvest. I keep all the dry mint in a small glass jar. Sometimes I also pick fresh mint and add that directly to some hot water if I want it immediately. 

zero waste tea

Obviously, this isn't the best option if you're into green, black or red teas. But you can grow a lot of herbal teas this way all while saving a buck. Think of it as an investment and a gift that keeps on giving. 

Here are some tea herbs that you can try growing for your own stash:

  • Mint
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Lemon balm
  • Ginger
  • Thyme
  • Jasmine
  • St. John's Wort
  • Lemon Grass

Try mixing different herbal blends to get the perfect tasting tea, or enhancing the benefits. You can use these herbs for tea dried or fresh.

Buy it in bulk

zero waste tea

Yet another option is buying your tea in bulk. If you're not familiar with bulk shopping, I have a whole post on how to use bulk bins without creating waste. I love getting teas in bulk at my local health food store - they have a whole aisle dedicated to just bulk, package free foods. I bring my handy dandy mason jars, let the cashiers tare them, and fill them up with anything I want. Unfortunately, my local health food store doesn't sell green, black, or red teas in bulk. I'd be happy if they just sold straight up green tea in bulk though, considering that's the tea I drink the most. That said, they offer a wide selection of herbal teas such as chamomile, lavender, peppermint, raspberry leaf, hibiscus, rosehip and so much more. I really encourage you to check out your local bulk food store and see what they have. You might be surprised at what you find.

zero waste tea
Left to right: Chamomile, raspberry leaf and hibiscus tea. Need to re-stock soon!

After paying for the package free tea (they weight it on a scale - bulk food goes by the pound), I take it home and stash it in my cabinets. It's important to keep dried teas in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. I leave them in my mason jars, but if I wanted to I could put them into smaller tins. 

When I'm brewing zero waste tea, here are two things I use over and over again:

  • Stainless steel kettle: It whistles to let me know the water is boiling - always handy if I get caught up making breakfast. Plus I've had mine for years. 
  • Stainless steel mesh tea ball infuser: I just put some of my bulk tea leaves in here, snap it shut and dunk it into my cup of hot water. The little hook lets the ball hang from the mug so it's easy to remove. Fully recyclable at the end of its life, but built to last.

These two essentials are key to making  great cup of tea every time. Plus, getting tea in bulk is great because I get to taste the full flavor of fresh, loose leaf tea. Can't beat that.


Shop sustainable brands


zero waste tea

With that said, I still cannot find green tea in bulk (or grow it for that matter). The next best option? Finding it in a plastic-free tea bag. Thankfully, there are several brands out there who make completely compostable tea bags, and package those tea bags sustainably.

My personal favorite is Yogi tea. They use compostable tea bags I can add directly to my compost, no fear it won't break down. They also package their tea bags in paper pouches which at least makes them compostable as well (even if it is a bit excessive, and a waste of a resource in my opinion). It's certainly better than a plastic pouch! And, of course, it comes in an easy to recycle (or compost) cardboard box. What could be better than that?

zero waste tea
See the little "compostable tea bags" symbol? I always look for something like that before buying from a brand.

Yogi tea also makes several organic teas. Not only are they thinking about sustainable packaging, but they're also ethically sourcing their ingredients. That's a company worth supporting, in my opinion (and no, I'm not being sponsored by them - I just really love their tea).

Best of all...they sell straight up green tea! Which is exactly what I want! I don't ask for much, but they certainly deliver. Of course, they sell a bunch of other teas too (haha, not just green tea). They make some excellent tea blends - I personally love their Echinacea Immune Support blend. I drank that twice a day back in the winter when both my parents were sick and I swear to this day it kept me from catching what they had.

Here are some other sustainable, zero waste tea brands worth supporting:

  • Bigelow - Their tea bags, string and paper tag are 100 percent compostable. Their box is compostable too. They do come in a foil wrapper though, which is trickier to recycle. Here's an overview of their packaging and how to compost/recycle each part.
  • Pukka Herbs - Plastic-free, tied together with organic cotton, these tea bags are 100 percent compostable. Plus they use organic, ethically sourced ingredients to make their teas.
  • Choice Organic Teas - They use unbleached, natural fiber, staple-free tea bags. Also, their boxes are 100 percent recycled paperboard printed with plant based ink. They keep everything as biodegradable as possible, plus their teas are organic.
  • Numi Organic Tea - Numi uses biodegradeable filter-paper tea bags rather than nylon or GMO-origin tea sachets. Their cardboard outer packaging is also made from 85 percent post-consumer waste and printed with soy-based inks. Not to mention they use organic ingredients.

I'm sure there are more plastic-free, zero waste tea brands out there, but these are the ones I'm most familiar with. If you know of any you particularly love, feel free to share them in the comments section. I'd be open to trying something new!

I hope this article gives you the confidence to make better, more informed choices. Obviously, you cannot control every little situation (ex: getting tea at a coffee shop and seeing it's brewed in a plastic tea bag), so don't get hung up on those moments. Just do the best you can and vote with your wallet. 

zero waste tea

What's your favorite way to drink zero waste tea?

5 comments

  1. Thank-you, very useful post.

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  2. I don't know where you are based but if you have any speciality tea shops near you they may let you buy loose leaf teas straight into your own containers. I am lucky to have one of those nearby and can get certain varieties that way.

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    1. This is very true! Specialty tea shops are great for that. :) There are several in the city that offer a bunch of loose leaf teas you can get in your own containers. It's fantastic you have one near you! Great job taking advantage of that. :D

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  3. Ariana, Something else to consider. From Dr. Mercola - "Paper tea bags are frequently treated with epichlorophydrin, which hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD when contact with water occurs. 3-MCPD is a carcinogen associated with food processing that has also been implicated in infertility and suppressed immune function.
    I recommend purchasing tea from manufacturers who can certify that their tea bags do not contain epichlorophydrin..." https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/24/tea-bags.aspx#_edn1

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