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Are you sure you can compost that tea bag?

The British are known for their tea drinking. It is estimated that of the 165 million cups of tea consumed per day in the UK, 96% are of them are made with tea bags. That’s a lot of tea bags!

In an effort to reduce methane gas produced by decomposing food waste in landfills, several counties in the UK have made a large push to collect food waste separately from landfill trash. The food waste collected is turned into compost. It is recommended that tea bags are thrown in with the food waste, but a new investigation reveals that these tea bags may not be fully biodegradable. This is not only a problem for the UK, as similar tea bags are popular all over.

Most tea bags are estimated to be 70-80% biodegradable, as they are primarily made from biodegradable fiber.Β  The non-biodegradable part is polypropylene, a polymer used for sealing some of the most commonly used tea bags.

Despite this, the government and some expert composters continue to recommend composting tea bags, as they still consider it to be a better option than sending them off to the landfill.Β  It is said that the non-biodegradable part is minimal and will be dispersed in the soil.

To compost or not to compost?

Sure, it can be argued that it may be better to compost tea bags than to put them into the landfill, as this keeps compostable material out of landfills and allows it to be used in a way to benefit Earth.Β  However, when composted, the polymers from the tea bags will eventually be introduced into soil in which it is likely food will be grown.Β  Over time, polymers can eventually leach their building blocks, called monomers, into surrounding materials.Β  These monomers are reactive and can be dangerous to humans if ingested.Β  Given emerging evidence on monomers contaminating food (think plastic water bottles leaching BPA into water), introducing polymers into our soil unnecessarily may not be the best idea.

Up next: How to keep your tea polymer free.

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