Plastic, Recycling and our ethic. What we do and where we stand! (In a not so nutshell)
Hi, as you’re on our website you may well know that we are a family business based down in the very lovely mumbles, Gower in South Wales. I have written this to answer some of the questions raised with regard to plastic content, the environment, recycling and other ethical questions that are often raised by ours and other tea customers and consumers. I am many things but a scientist is not one of them so instead I have been honest an open about all that we do and am happy to answer any further questions you may have.
A quick life story!
Alan, our dad, started this company some thirty years ago and now myself (James), my sister Sarah, along with our hard working mum, are the four main employees here at Welsh Brew Tea. We have literally gone from a small company supplying a few post offices in mid Wales (where we blended and packed all our teas), to one of Wales’ leading brands, supplying tea to all the major supermarkets in Wales and sometimes beyond.
Where we stand and our big competitors.
We are up against some pretty big multinational businesses in the tea world. We all know them, and they have done some great and some not so great things in an industry that way pre dates our company and us. There’s Tetley tea and Tea Pigs who are part of the TATA steel group. There’s PG Tips who are owned by the Unileaver group, and there’s Typhoo tea/Glengetti who are part of the APPEEJAY group. We also have the likes of Twinnings and the family owned Yorkshire Tea who are now more than competing with the big boys. These are all on the mighty Google, so I’ll let you look them up.
Us? We are still 100% family owned and family run, but that’s not to say we do it all ourselves. Our 100% Rain Forest Alliance (RFA) coffee is packed for us by someone who really knows their coffee, as are some of our Hot Chocolates. We use a variety of different suppliers for tea bags ranging from the very small to the not so small. We offer Biodegradable Soilon Pyramid Fuso bags, some nylon bags and some paper tea bags. We also have all our teas available in loose leaf and therefore with no individual tea bag at all, but we can get into this in more detail later.
Reduce, reuse, Recycle.
It’s a millennium mantra and we have been singing it for many years. As a small company you soon see that waste is no good for anyone. It has a major effect on the environment but it also has a major impact on profitability, and although no one seems to mention it, that’s vital to staying in business and making a living. We always reuse our own cardboard boxes for shipping anything that is bought on our website… that’s why the cardboard box it arrives in may well have an interesting story to tell of its own!
But how could I throw it away? It’s wasteful AND they cost 40p and that’s a saving for you, the planet and me. You’ll often see me at the Celtic Manor where we deliver every week and collect their boxes which they very kindly let me reuse. The bubble wrap too. In fact, any plastic or cello based packing you receive in a parcel from me will more likely be some that I’ve received and am passing it on for one, or hopefully a few more uses. Don’t tell anyone but I even reuse the peppermint Tea Birds tea bag (soilon biodegradable) two or sometimes three times, as you still get a great cup of peppermint out of it’s third time round. Same goes for all the Tea Birds. That there is a plug but 100% true!
This raises the point on the recyclability of a tea bag. I sourced the below from www.recyclenow.com, but there are plenty more sites on the web to get some information from, and each tends to give their own version.
“There are several ways to get rid of your used tea bags. If you have a food waste collection scheme in your area, tea bags can be included in this. Tea bags can also be added to your home composting bin if you have one.
Can I compost used tea bags?
- Yes – tea bags can be composted in home compost bins. When you use the compost, you may find there is a thin ‘skeleton’ of the bags still visible. These can be sieved out and discarded or dug in with the compost. What happens to the used tea bags I put in my food waste bin/caddy?
- The used tea bags (together with the other food) will either be composted or sent for anaerobic digestion.”
I have read this and many other sites and really like it, but can I recycle a teabag?
For me, it would involve cutting open the tea bag and putting the contents in the compost or food bin and then popping the remains of the teabag in the recycling. But can you recycle nylon, soilon or paper with polypropylene glue in it? It’s kind of the same as the polystyrene cup… great, they are recyclable but only if you can find somewhere to recycle them (My local council has a specific drop for polystyrene so I take any cups we use there) At the shows I sell a mug and give you the tea for free, happy days. Those takeaway cups in the big chains? Check out the label – can you recycle them? We have to take them home, that’s for sure as my local high street doesn’t offer a recycling center.
I would not for one minute claim to have even some of the answers, but having relentlessly searched I can’t fully and honestly answer the question.
What I can say is that although we are far from a market leader, our small size offers us the opportunity to be reactive and change in a quicker way, and that’s what we try and do.
Our round tea bags and our square RFA teabags and plastic
Tea bags are widely accepted in home composting, as well as in food waste collection by the council for composting. The polypropylene part of a heat sealable tea bag cannot be called biodegradable. But in an average tea bag weighing approximately 3.5 grams the tea bag paper accounts for 0.18 grams, only 25% of this is polypropylene so the tea and cellulose fibers in a tea bag make it 98.7% biodegradable. What is left will be a fragile web of PP fibers that will fragment and degrade over a longer period.
It is important to note the difference in compostability and biodegradability, as yes, it is compostable, but it is not 100% biodegradable.
Rest assured we are working hard to find a route where polypropylene is not used in our teabags.
Our Soilon Pyramids (soilon is a biodegradable pyramid teabag)
We are in the process of making all our Tea Birds with soilon biodegradable bags. It’s a case of making sure they are fit for purpose and don’t break up in the cup. We are there on some of the range and working through stocks to get the whole lot over. After all, I can’t just throw away the ones we already have, because my boss (Dad) would have a fit! We actually launched this product with the soilon bag but found it split on too many occasions, so have been using the nylon in the interim. Product quality is key and now we have found some that are up to the job we are re-re-replacing them with the soilon biodegradable bag. Like I said, it’s all a journey and a learning curve.
What we don’t do
We are not the manufacturer of the glue or the material that makes up our teabags. We have to buy these products in from specialist manufacturers and we are very much industry led here. If everyone is on board then it becomes the natural order for smaller companies like us to be able to use the advances made by the multi national companies. It is a balance of what is available, cost effective and environmentally sound. We always strive to meet all three criteria but are sometimes restrained by the technology available to us.
Loose Leaf tea
We have every bag available in loose leaf so there are no teabags required. There is however, one big bag for a kilo or a smaller bag for 125g. This is a foils wrapped bag, which keeps the tea fresh and dry and storable. In order to seal this bag on a heat sealer, there again has to be a binding substance. I don’t make these bags but can only assume it’s the same polypropylene type stuff mentioned earlier. I have tried posting in paper bags but this has proved unsuccessful thus far.
Our string and tag has been upgraded so there is no staple and that pretty much covers our teas.
Rain Forrest Alliance (RFA Tea and Coffee)
If you’re still reading this then hats off to you. All the above is my own personal opinion other than that which I have said is sourced and quoted. We try and make every run in the vans as economical as possible. This again saves us money whilst monitoring our carbon footprint.
I personally have been picking up plastic on our beaches since I was a teenager and refusing plastic bags since I could afford anything big enough to put in them. The Reduce reuse recycle song just may have been my oldest daughters favorite nursery rhyme.
Myself, Sarah (my sister), and Alan (our father) strive to offer fairness and quality in all that we do and although that may sound a bit of a cliché or even a get out clause, it is our honest approach. We all have children and want a bright and sustainable future for them. If you are ever at any of the shows (Royal Welsh or many of the local farmers markets that we do) then please pop over and I will treat you to a cuppa and quite likely bore you to death on all things tea (as you may guess we are pretty passionate about it).
If you have any questions then please drop us a line on 01792 363391 our Mumbles office or email us here on the website or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks, diolch