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Packaging: Where We Are Now & Where We Want To Be

We are delighted to share the news that our Tea Bag Boxes have now been formally certified as 100% Plastic-Free by environmental NGO A Plastic Free Planet and you’ll therefore now see the official Plastic-Free trustmark proudly displayed on the front of each pack. While our Tea Bag Cartons, from the outer box to the tea bags inside and even the inner wrap around them, has in fact been plastic-free for a while now, we hope that this trustmark will make it even clearer for our customers, as well as help signpost how important the issue of reducing unnecessary plastic is.

Our Tea Bag cartons now feature a Plastic-Free badge on the front of pack

As part of our overall commitment to Doing Things Properly (an approach we work by) and what that means when it comes to our Sustainability policy, the packaging across our range is under continuous review and we are always looking out for opportunities to do things better. With that in mind and to celebrate this new certification, we wanted to share where we’re at with those efforts so far, as well as where we’ve still got further to go. We’ve also included a simple guide for how to dispose of our packaging in the most environmentally friendly way.

So, what do we look for when it comes to packaging?

As a tea business, we work hard to source delicious teas from around the world and then focus on helping you get the best possible flavour from every cup. The leaves have been expertly crafted at origin to ensure the best quality in every leaf and are then packed and shipped to us by boat. Great care is taken every step of the way to ensure that when the tea arrives with us at our Warehouse in the UK, it is just as packed full of flavour as when it left. With a focus on quality and ultimately providing you with delicious cups of tea, the environment is therefore not our only consideration when it comes to packaging. Here are the various factors we need to keep in mind:

    Protects the flavour and aroma of the tea

  • The packaging we use to send our precious leaves to you plays a very important role in ensuring that at the final step of the way, the quality and freshness of the leaves remains intact and that the flavour and aroma upon opening it is just as exciting as when we first selected it.

    Environmentally friendly

  • The reality is that every bag of tea we sell leaves its mark – from the leaves being plucked, processed, packaged, shipped, stored, blended and ultimately consumed, there is an impact, whether environmental or social, every step of the way. As a business, it is therefore our responsibility to minimise any negative impact on the environment, as well as ensure that any social impact is a positive one. Like all food businesses, when it comes to packaging that means balancing the need for efficacy with keeping packaging waste to a minimum. That isn’t only about what happens to the materials after they’re used either - it should take into consideration the impact of getting those materials to the UK, the manufacturing process, their durability to minimise waste and more. In short, it’s complicated. The waste hierarchy of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a helpful guide to keep in mind when thinking about packaging and we therefore try to keep it as light and natural as possible without compromising on the quality of our product.

    User friendly

  • It might not seem as important as delicious flavour in your cup or protecting the planet, but making sure that the experience of making a cup of tea (or indeed storing your tea) is a good one is something we rank pretty highly. After all we want you to look forward to reaching for that bag of tea every day. Bad packaging can be frustrating, so it must be fit for purpose for the end user.

    Does the job

  • Finally, there are a myriad of operational requirements to consider too, from standing up on shelf to fitting neatly into outer cases and of course the packaging needs to be economically viable. That is not to say it needs to be the cheapest - far from it, the best options rarely are when you consider the above points - but the numbers of course need to stack up somehow.

What is all the fuss about plastic?

A Plastic Planet have written a brilliantly simple lowdown here to help navigate the now very confusing topic of plastic. A highly recommended read, it will help anyone understand the basics of what’s good and what’s not vs jumping on the wave of ‘plastic = bad’ without fully understanding why. The following simple principle is one that helpfully summarises what we should all be working towards:

Increasing the use of materials that Nature can handle and eliminating the use of those Nature can’t’. 

Again, it is about minimising any negative impact we have on our planet as we go about doing business, and plastics (while having a host of unparalleled qualities) are not ideal for a number of reasons in that regard. Not only are they problematic from an end of life recyclability perspective meaning they stick around far too long, getting into our water and harming ecosystems, they are also usually made from non-renewable materials such as oil at the start of their life. 

There has been a lot of media attention given to the use of plastic in tea bags in particular. While many of the leading tea brands in the UK use a small amount of plastic to seal their paper bags, others moved to pyramid bags made of Nylon, which were discovered to leak high volumes of micro-plastics into your tea. Thanks to focusing the lens on that particular plastic issue and the resulting pressure from consumers, many of those brands are now looking to move to plastic-free options like ours.

Where we are now

Bearing in mind all of the above, you can see that this is no simple task. Instead of looking for the ‘perfect’ solution (one thing is for sure, that doesn’t exist), we try to focus on continuous improvement, always looking for the ‘least worst’ option accessible to us and keeping up with innovations as they become available. Below is a summary of where we are now, as well as where we want to be:

Our Tea Bags

Our tea bags and string are made from a material called SOILON, a natural, plant-based material derived from cornstarch, while the tag is made from paper. Finally the whole thing is sealed using heat - so no plastic to speak of. That means each tea bag in its entirety is fully compostable and in the right conditions will break down into just CO2 and water.  

How best to dispose of them? 

Though the tea bags are fully compostable and would therefore break down eventually in your home compost, your food waste bin is the best place for them. Once collected by your local council, the tea bags will be broken down under industrial conditions within 8-12 weeks.

The Inner Bag

The clear inner bag inside your tea bag boxes (the one that looks just like plastic) is in fact made from a renewable wood-pulp called Natureflex. Once heat-sealed, this new bio-film is airtight as well as providing heat resistance, ensuring it protects the tea inside, while also being fully compostable along with the tea bags inside it. 

How best to dispose of them?

As above for the tea bags, though the film is fully compostable, marine degradable and approved to an OK Home Compost standard (it even enhances soil quality) your food waste bin is the best place for it. Once collected by your local council, the Natureflex will be broken down in industrial conditions within 8-12 weeks.

The Outer Carton

Our colourful outer cartons are made from FSC certified cardboard. FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting responsible forestry. That means any wood used in their production must conform to the highest environmental and social standards of forestry. The cartons are 100% plastic-free and fully recyclable. 

How best to dispose of them? 

These are best disposed of in your home recycling bin, where your local council will be able to convert the waste materials into new material for further use.

Our Loose Leaf Tea

It goes without saying that choosing to drink loose leaf tea is the best decision you can make for the environment, as the leaves are of course a completely natural, organic material and therefore fully compostable. Indeed your flower beds will love these nutrient-rich leaves as they’re easily decomposed and will soon start giving goodness back to the soil. 

How best to dispose of them? 

Sprinkle them onto the soil in your garden or put them into your food waste bin.

The Loose Leaf Pouch

This is where we have the biggest area for improvement. Our kraft pouches are made from a plastic aluminium laminate, meaning the paper outer is lined with both plastic and aluminium linings. Although each of those materials is recyclable, the fact that it is a composite means that in order for them to be recycled the materials need to be separated, which few councils are able to do. This option has been for a long time the ‘least worst’ solution available to us, with zip locks to keep your leaves airtight between brews and layered linings protecting the contents from moisture and air to ensure freshness. Since we launched this packaging many years ago, a couple of alternatives have become available but many of the innovations simply haven’t provided a step change enough to make the transition worthwhile.

How best to dispose of them? 

While the pouches are technically recyclable, it is unlikely that they are able to be recycled in household recycling centres. This is why we are working to find alternative solutions - we haven't found one yet but will keep looking and applying pressure where we can!

Our Matcha Tins

Each of our Ceremonial Grade Matcha tins is made of tinplate and is air, light and moisture tight - an essential attribute for the storage of Matcha which is even more sensitive than other teas.

How best to dispose of them?

The best thing you can do is give these little tins another life - we love using them for herbs and spices as they keep them fresh. Failing that, the tins are fully recyclable so should go into your home recycling bin

Our Cardboard Boxes

Almost every order we send out, whether by post or by courier, inevitably ends up in a cardboard box. As we’ve grown from kitchen table start-up to established brand, we never cease to be amazed at how much cardboard comes in and out of the warehouse - we can only imagine how much big businesses must use! The good news is that all of our boxes are produced using 75% recycled materials, with any new material coming from FSC certified forests. Cardboard is also widely recyclable, so can be flat packed and put straight into your household recycling bin. That said, we also try to re-use our boxes wherever possible. You may have seen a Forgive me, I’m an Ugly Box sticker on one of your orders, particularly if you’re a Wholesale customer receiving monthly deliveries from us. We hope you agree that while they might not look as pristine as a new box, it’s what’s inside that matters and giving a sturdy box multiple uses can only be a good thing. 

How best to dispose of them?

Re-use them for your own deliveries wherever possible, but failing that flatpack them into your household recycling bin.

So what’s next?

The most pressing area to look at is our Loose Leaf packaging, where we’d like to find a solution made from renewable resources, as well as recyclable or compostable at the end of its life. However, as we know there is no silver bullet here - there are always trade-offs so it won’t be an easy process. Even the compostable packaging we have moved to for the Tea Bags isn’t perfect, as there are still many areas in the UK that don’t benefit from food waste collections. That said, our feeling is that the ongoing development of the waste infrastructure in the UK will move on more rapidly than the emergence of new materials, so opting for ‘compostable’ and making use of plant-based materials like Natureflex may well inform our choices again. The loose leaf packaging project is already very much underway and we’re in the process of reviewing all of the options available to us in order to identify the best way forward. We’ll keep you posted with our progress and we may even need your input so keep your eyes peeled…

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