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Tea baggage

(article, Mark Douglas)

More than one million tons of excess waste could be eliminated each year by not having the following three items associated with an average tea bag: the paper wrapping around the individual bag, the string attached to the bag, and the little paper tab attached to the string. 

I learned that from the History Channel’s "Modern Marvels" series. I thought I wasn't paying attention as the program played in the background, but that fact jumped out at me — and I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I called a spokesperson at Celestial Seasonings, a tea maker in Colorado that packs its tea bags — sans wrapper, string, and tab — into wax-paper-lined boxes, and she confirmed that general statistic and said that if other tea companies eliminated those three items, they would save an estimated $300 million, or 3.6 million pounds of waste a year. 

Here’s an example where economics and good environmental practices both point to the same thing: eliminating waste.

And it raises a good point for us consumers: How much do we really need individual packaging to distinguish our favorite brand of tea, or to provide us with convenience? What about reusable tea strainers? They still work.

When you visualize the million tons of tea junk along with all the other excess packaging we generate daily — paper cups for coffee, the bag you get with your sandwich at lunch, that single-serve yogurt cup — well, it’s mind-boggling.

The challenge for companies is to distinguish their products in a cleaner, less wasteful way.

Happily, you can find refreshing exceptions to the huge amounts of waste we all create. Artists in Cape Town, South Africa, turn used tea bags — without the excess baggage — into art. Now there’s a package that pleases.