Plastic free tea in South Africa

Recently, the inspiring Treading My Own Path posted a picture of a tea bag on Instagram and it got me thinking I need to make more people aware of the problem with plastic in teabags, not only for their own health and for the environment, but we could all be a voice together to try get companies to consider changing their ways. And if they won’t change their ways, let’s not support them? Did you know that your teabag probably contains plastic? Read more here.

Treading My Own Path
Pic from Treading My Own Path

We switched over to loose leaf tea absolutely yonks ago.  I am yet to be able to find the ideal unpackaged loose leaf tea in my area, but it is definitely out there.  We use Five Roses loose leaf tea, which unfortunately comes in a foil liner. I originally switched over as I wanted to avoid all the unnecessary tea bags, as even if they do biodegrade, lots of resources are used to produce that bag.  I then discovered that most tea bags actually contain plastic. Even more reason that I wanted to avoid them!

Click here to watch a video clip that Treading My Own Path shared on Facebook.  The BBC explains how teabags are made.

Using loose leaf tea is not a hassle at all.  I use one teaspoon of tea per cup, and I then leave it in the sieve and top up with 1/2 teaspoon for the second cup – so I am actually using less tea! It doesn’t take longer to make. I just shake the loose used tea into the garden.

So please do reconsider the tea you purchase and it’s packaging.  Treading My Own Path has started #plasticfreetea. Read about her Plastic Free Tea Campaign, and what we can do to try make change.

I am going to collate some info from tea brands in South Africa that I know of below, and will update it as I discover more, and as you help me with sharing your knowledge!

Wondering what you can do?

  1. Do you know of any brands that I have not included?
  2. Do you know of any brands of tea that use plastic free tea bags?
  3. Do you know of any shops in South Africa that sell loose leaf tea that you can purchase in your own or their refillable containers?
  4. You might consider joining me in making your opinion known with the brands mentioned below or any others you know of. Also, refer to this blog post for other brands of tea, you can make your opinion heard around the world! Let’s be kind and positive with our opinions though … 😉

Use the comments below to share your info.

Feel free to copy/paste/tweak the message below.  Remember #plasticfreetea in your Facebook, Twitter & Instagram posts.

Please will you consider creating your teabags without plastic.  Plastic consumption is damaging not only to our environment but to our health too. We don’t want plastic in our teabags!  #plasticfreetea


Five Roses

10 July 2017 – After my post on their Facebook page they asked me to email them, which I did. Response via email on 17th July

The main compositional ingredients of infusion grade filter paper is comprised of a blend of unbleached long cellulose fibre and TCF wood pulp(s) with thermoplastic (eg. polypropylene) providing the heat sealable element. The material also contains wet strength resin which as the name implies imparts necessary characteristics to the web/tissue when the tea brew is being infused/ prepared. The product is tested in accordance with relevant food certification standards.”

Joko Tea (Unilever – also Glen, Lipton)

11 July 2017 – After my post on their Facebook page, they responded to say

The filter paper of the tea bag has a PE sealant layer.

FreshPak Rooibos

11 July 2017 – After my post on their Facebook page they responded with; “The main compositional ingredients of infusion grade filter paper is comprised of a blend of unbleached long cellulose fibre and TCF wood pulp(s) with thermoplastic (eg. polypropylene) providing the heat sealable element.

Carmien Rooibos 

17 July 2017 – They confirmed with a reader, Silvia (see comments below) that their tea bags are 25% polypropylene.


PG TipsTwitter

10 July 2017 – After my tweet to them they asked me to email, which I did.

 Yorkshire Tea

11 July 2017- After my post on their Facebook page, they responded with this email.

Thanks for getting in touch.

The tea paper we currently use is mainly paper – made from different woods but has a thin layer of PP (polypropylene) this is so the teabag seals on the machine. We have looked into a biodegradable /compostable polymer as the heat seal layer – PLA – (Polylactic acid) this ran well on our machines but the teabag fell apart in hot water – we have to test this!  

As new material comes up in this area we will look into this again – we also take into account other issue e.g. the carbon footprint and  food safety of materials used PLA has a higher carbon footprint than PP currently!

I hope that helps.

Then I got a second response from a different person within the Taylors of Harrogate customer service team.

Thank you for getting in touch and yes our tea bag paper consists of 75% paper and 25% polypropylene, this being a food grade plastic that is inert so is suitable for composting. We have tried a number of fully biodegradable papers however there can be significant sealing errors and this just was not a practical material when used. The current paper ensures that the tea bag has strength in the cup so infusing the water while keeping the tea within and it is also essential in the heat sealing process the tea bag goes through.

Right now this is the best option available to us when ensuring quality alongside our ethical commitments. We are pleased to be working towards a carbon neutral status by 2020, we have recently installed solar panels across the whole factory roof and are half way to planting 1 million trees here in the UK and in countries where our tea and coffee comes from. Visit our news pages to find out more of what we do and where

Thanks so much for taking the time to contact us and we hope this email offers some explanation.

Twinings Tea UK

11 July 2017 – After my post on Facebook they emailed with:

We appreciate the time taken to pass on your concerns, and we would like to ensure you that we do care about our packaging and its effect on the environment.   We are continually working to make progress in regards to the manufacture of our teabags. It may be of interest to you to know that our Mesh Pyramids are entirely plastic free.   In an attempt to produce a teabag that’s 100% biodegradable and compostable, we’ve sourced a mesh pyramid bag that’s derived from maize starch.   It’s spun in to filaments to produce a plastic-like appearance, but these do not contain plastic.
Our range of these can be seen below for your perusal:
We hope this information is of help, and that you feel assured that here at Twinings, we do take this matter very seriously.

Twinings Tea Australia

11 July 2017 – After my post on their Facebook page they came back with a rather informative reply. Click here.

Clipper Teas

11 July 2017 – After my post on their Facebook page they replied to say

We are always working hard to improve our packaging, and are actively looking for alternatives, so this is definitely something we are considering

The Good Guys!

To me the easiest option is to buy loose leaf tea (which is packaged in combo of card and foil and sometimes plastic too) at most grocery stores – Five Roses for example.

Tea Merchant South Africa

You can buy loose leaf tea by the refill from any of their stores!  Lucky you if you have one nearby!

Colombo Coffee – Durban North

Carmien Tea

We moved over to Plastic free/Compostable teabags last year (2020). Don’t have the Polypropylene component anymore.

We can all make a difference but making changes in our habits and making sure we voice our opinions to manufacturers.  EcoAtlas also encourages us to vote with our wallets!



  1. I discovered this problem a few years back; my parents had a compost heap onto which they’d throw their spent teabags… assuming they’d decompose, except when we came to turn the pile over we found a heap of the empty bags still there (they drank a lot of tea).

    In my own efforts to avoid this, since suppliers don’t state what the bags are made of (yet they’ll state what the other packaging consists of, I too decided to switch to loose leaf tea, only to then be faced with the issue of “foil packed for freshness” which for me is near impossible to avoid. Comparing teabags that are foil packed to those that aren’t I notice no difference in freshness.

    One other benefit I have found from the particular loose leaf tea I buy is that I like it without sugar/honey, unlike the bagged variety from the same sourse, which I always prefer a little sweetened.


      • I have The co-operative’s ‘Loved by us’ 99 Fairtrade Loose Tea’, which comes in a plastic film bag (“not currently recycled”). I tried also to find coffee beans that were in a bag that wasn’t of a “composite” material, with no success.


  2. This was a good read. .. however considering the huge difference in price (at least the Ceylon at Tea Merchant) would it make any sense to simply tear open the tea bag and empty it in order to avoid using the plastic tea bag?
    I know that it doesn’t solve the issue completely however at least we won’t have a cup of plastic infused tea. So it would certainly be alot healthier and affordable for those not able to get their hands on good quality loose tea leaves.


    • Yes I suppose you could do that. For me the concern is not just for health, but is more the resources used in the production of the singe use packaging (teabag). I buy Five Roses loose leaf tea from Pick n Pay, and herbal loose leaf teas from Dischem in their health food section. They come in Green and white boxes, loose leaf tea still in a plastic bag inside. But I found the prices very affordable!


      • That’s great to know.
        How do you brew the loose leaf though? I like my tea pretty strong so steeping it in boiling water is not enough but then again boiling it would burn the leaves


      • I have a teapot that has a cup like strainer that sits in the middle, but it is removable. So I just place that in the mug with a teaspoon of leaves, pour boiling water over it and leave it for a minute. Not too sure what you mean, as that is the only way I know how to make tea – pour boiling water over and leave to brew.


  3. In response to purelyscrumptious: to brew a pot of loose leaf tea, use one teaspoon per person and one for the pot then top up with boiling water. Allow to steep and them simply pour through a tea strainer. I find this is the best if you like strong tea.


  4. Hi there, it’s 2020 and I just came across your blog after querying Carmièn’s tea bags – they have recently changed to a PLA plant based plastic but after reading some links while the PLA’s are compostable in an industrial composter they are biodegradable in nature… They need 55°-70°C to break down. So we can’t just throw the teabags on the ground or in the sea and expect them to break down…. So loose tea is still the win then.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello, thank you so much for creating this article and awareness!
    I have a question, if you have some teas already to use that are in plastic sealed teabags, could you cut the teabag and use the tea leaves inside without getting any small plastic contamination into your drink?


    • Hi Rachel, I’m sure you could, but couldn’t guarantee it. I personally am less concerned about the plastic contamination through drinking my tea. My concern is more about the amount of resource that is used to produce this single use product, which most of us believe to be plastic free. We still use tea bags occasionally, for camping, but the bulk of the time we use loose leaf. 😊


  6. Hi! Thank you for this informative article. I used to compost teabags whole until I learnt of the plastic component. Now I dry them after use and tear them open. The leaves make compost with banana peels, especially for rose gardens, and I ecobrick the husks. For those who worry about the foil or plastic used in packaging loose tea, ecobricking is a step towards ensuring that it does not end up in landfill. Although the drying and opening is a major effort (I collect teabags from our school too, and if I don’t stay on top of things, I end up with a MOUNTAIN to work through!), I will persevere until all teabags could be plastic free. I’ll check your information regularly!

    Liked by 1 person

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