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Tea: No Strings Attached

Tea is second only to water as the world’s leading beverage. It is favored for its flavor and health benefits, and despite such a large demand costs only about three cents per serving to make at home.

In 2011, tea sales in the U.S. reached a total of 8.20 million sales, including supermarket retail sales, foodservice sales, and ready-to-serve tea sales. Of those sales, 65 percent consisted of tea that was prepared using tea bags.

Making tea with disposable bags is perhaps the most common way of preparing tea in developed countries. Tea bags were introduced commercially in 1904, though used a short time before then. Tags were added as both a way to remove the bags carefully from hot kettles and cups without scorching the hand, and also as a means to identify the variety of the tea – and of course, mark its maker. To accommodate the tag, strings and staples were needed. While these are still common in packaged tea – with most bags receiving individual wrapping as well – there is also growing concern over the amount of resources being needlessly used because of their inclusion.

Though it is not clear whether companies currently using tags will discard them in the future, there are many companies who were always tag-less. Such companies pride themselves on their environmentally friendlier practices, as in addition to forgoing tags, strings, and staples, many pack their tea ‘pillows’ into a single box, without the use of individual wrapping.

While not diminishing waste altogether, it does pay off. Celestial Seasonings, a well known company offering natural teas, claims to save 3.5 million pounds of waste each year due to their tag free production. By switching to tag-less tea, you may save close to a thousand tea bags worth of tags, strings, staples, and wrapping. Assuming you drink around one 20 count boxes of tea per week.

Now we turn to the bags themselves, some are square and envelope like, others round pouches, and some pyramids with fine creases, while the earliest ones were more like sacks. The material used to make them is often just as varied. Although it depends on the company, many bags are made from the fibers of wood or vegetables, and many from recycled fibers as well. While most bags are made from natural materials, many are bleached. Also, heat seal-able bags often have PVC or polypropylene in their inner liners. This of course makes recycling tricky.

Still a great deal of loose tea is available, and it is actually growing in popularity in the United States. This may be due to the desire to create unique and specialty blends, as more people are enjoying the option to customize the products they consume.

There is much merit to loose tea’s appeal. In addition to reducing paper waste, loose tea creates a flavor that is smoother than bagged tea, as leaves are allowed to expand. Plus, you can alter the amount to accommodate all cup sizes, as well as your personal preference. You can make tea with loose leaves using an infuser ball or by steeping the tea freely in a pot or kettle.

Either way, drinking loose tea is the best bet to eliminating package waste, as you can always refill your empty tea tins and even make your own blends.

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