Environmental campaigners at the not-for-profit, City to Sea, have called on the big tea bag brands to take part in a greenwashing “AmnesTea” and to stop using confusing terms like “compostable” and “biodegradable” unless their products meet the highest standards. Currently, some tea bags can be made enmeshed with plastics like polypropylene fibers, but even tea bags claiming to be “plastic-free” or even “compostable” can often include bioplastics like polylactic acid (PLA). PLA, like many other bioplastics, is a plant-based polymer that is considered “biodegradable” but only in industrial settings and cannot be domestically composted.
The move comes following an announcement from Waitrose stating it has become the first UK supermarket to sell own-brand tea bags that are certified as suitable for home composting. A move that City to Sea welcomes.
In 2021 the CMA launched its guidance for businesses on making green claims. In it, it states that “if a product will only biodegrade or compost in certain conditions, for example requiring specialist equipment or processes that are not commonly used, this should be explained. Otherwise, consumers are liable to assume the claim applies to the typical methods for disposing of the product.”. These are standards that City to Sea say tea brands are not meeting. The CMA says that businesses need to consider “whether their claims are conditional and qualified; that they have made this clear; and that the claim, as a whole, is accurate.” Tests that City to Sea say are clearly not met when a product is claimed to be “biodegradable” or “compostable” without giving the context that this only refers to industrial settings and not for home composting.
City to Sea’s Policy Manager, Steve Hynd, commented saying, “Waitrose has joined a small group of brands to make a tea bag that can be chucked into your home compost. This is very welcome. But this is the standard all tea bags should meet. Instead, customers are left with a near-impossible list of jargon to try and decipher. That’s why today we’re calling on all major tea brands to join our greenwashing “AmnesTea” and cease using phrases like “plastic-free”, “compostable”, or “biodegradable” unless their products meet the TUV OK compost HOME certification standards. At the very least businesses need to meet the CMA standards by offering clear conditionality to their claims and to give consumers clear instructions.”
He continued, “Our advice to all of those who love a good brew is that until we get this clarity, drink loose tea wherever possible. If you need to buy tea bags look out for home compostable symbols. For your current tea bags, if you’re not sure what they’re made of, it’s best to rip them open, put the tea in the compost or food caddy, and then bin the bag. For now at least if you see words like “plastic-free”, “compostable”, or “biodegradable” assume you CANNOT home compost it.”
The TUV OK compost HOME certification means the tea bags can be placed directly into a home compost bin or heap. The CMA guidance sets out principles by which businesses making environmental claims should meet.