How Sustainable Is Your Cup of Tea?
By Jane Marsh
Even small daily habits impact the environment. Think about your morning tea — it might have a more complicated environmental tale than you expected.
Tea’s Environmental Impact
Tea farming has a much greater impact than just your cup of tea. Being aware of how much land tea needs to grow is essential because expanding tea plantations can harm natural places.
Big tea farms might cause deforestation and loss of animal homes. Herbal and fruit tea infusions involve using around 300 various plants and 400 plant parts.
To help limit the negative impact, many farmers use methods like agroforestry, where tea grows with native trees, and organic farming, which avoids harmful chemicals. These methods protect nature and even improve it in places where tea is grown.
Water and Tea
Tea cultivation doesn’t just quench your thirst — the process requires a lot of water, too. Tea farming can be water-intensive, requiring significant resources to grow those comforting leaves you love in your cup.
Tea farmers are adopting innovative practices to minimize their water footprint due to the importance of water conservation. One approach is rainwater harvesting, where they collect rainwater to use in tea fields — helping the tea plants grow without using up limited resources.
The farmers are also getting smart about how they water their plants. They use irrigation techniques that make sure every drop of water counts. It’s about giving the tea plants what they need without wasting essential water resources.
Did you know a single plastic teabag brewed at 95 degrees Celcius can release 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics? That’s why it’s crucial to manage water responsibly.
Making sure your tea is delicious and water-safe is also essential. Regular plumbing checks keep your water healthy and support the environment. This is especially important for tea lovers. Skilled technicians fix any issues, making your water taste even better and keeping you and your tea happy and healthy.
From Leaf to Cup
Tea needs the energy to be made and travel to your cup. This energy, though, can create a problem for the environment.
But now, tea producers are getting creative with energy. They’re moving towards renewable solutions, like using solar power and biomass.
Solar panels are like magnetic sun soakers installed on the roofs of tea factories. These panels capture the abundant sunlight and turn it into clean, renewable energy.
Biomass involves using natural materials like plants to generate energy. Tea factories might use leftover tea leaves or other plant materials to create a sustainable energy source. It’s a clever way of turning tea-related leftovers into brewing more tea.
Tea has existed for over 5,000 years and is still crucial for health, culture and economic development. It’s grown in over 35 countries, helping more than 13 million small farmers and their families who depend on tea for their livelihood.
Fair Trade is a special badge for tea that promises fair treatment for the workers. When your tea is “Fair Trade Certified,” it means the people who make it get a good amount of money for their work and the place where they work is safe and healthy. The workers have extra benefits like projects, education, and health care.
When you pick Fair Trade tea, you’re not just enjoying a tasty cup — you’re making sure the people behind your tea are treated well. It’s like adding a bit of kindness to your tea break.
People in the U.K. use 61 billion tea bags every year. On average, each person uses four tea bags a day, totaling 1,460 per year. That means almost 167 million tea bags are thrown away or composted daily throughout the country.
Standard tea packaging, like plastic and aluminum, sticks around for a long time, causing pollution and using many resources. Even though people think they can be composted, most tea bags are just 70%-80% compostable because they have some plastic for sealing.
The good news is more companies are using biodegradable tea bags that break down naturally. Compostable packaging also turns into good soil when you throw it away.
Tips for Sustainable Tea Shopping
More tea is being made globally — 5.8 metric tonnes in 2018 and about 1.76 million tonnes exported yearly. People enjoy various teas for taste and health benefits, causing a 4.5% increase in global tea consumption.
When you know how your tea is made, you make more intelligent choices. Making sustainable choices when buying tea is easy with these simple tips:
- Choose loose-leaf: Opt for loose-leaf tea instead of pre-packaged tea bags. It reduces packaging waste and often results in a fresher and higher-quality brew.
- Support eco-friendly brands: Look for tea brands committed to sustainable practices, from responsible sourcing to eco-friendly packing. Your choice supports businesses making positive impacts.
- Check certifications: Seek teas with certifications like Fair Trade or organic. These labels ensure ethical and environmental standards are met in the tea production process.
- Explore bulk options: Purchase tea in bulk when possible. It minimizes individual packing and often offers cost savings. Bring your reusable containers to reduce waste even further.
- Reusable infusers: Invest in a reusable tea infuser or strainer. It’s a simple way to enjoy loose-leaf tea without needing disposable bags.
- DIY blends: Get creative and make your tea blends using loose-leaf ingredients. It allows you to control the mix, reduce packing, and tailor flavors to your liking.
- Minimize single-use accessories: Carry a reusable travel mug or thermos if you enjoy tea on the go. It cuts down on single-use cup and lid waste associated with takeaway tea.
- Recycle responsibly: If you choose tea in traditional packaging, ensure it’s recyclable. Properly dispose of tea packaging in recycling bins to contribute to waste reduction.
Remember, every sustainable choice you make while buying tea contributes to a greener, more responsible tea industry.
Your Tea, Your Planet
Everything from growing the tea to how it’s wrapped up plays a role in the environment. You can make a difference. Simple choices add up to a more Earth-friendly tea experience. So, when you sip your tea, know you’re part of making the world a bit greener.
About the Author:
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of