New UCC research reveals how Ireland’s tea consumption affects the environment

Research investigates how teabags affect the environment after they are discarded



27 April 2021

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Ireland is a nation of tea drinkers, but many perhaps don’t realise that their favourite cuppa could impact the environment for centuries[i].

Scientists in University College Cork (UCC) conducted new research to better understand the effect that Ireland’s tea drinking habits is having on the environment. The research, commissioned by Lyons Tea, independently investigated nine well-known tea brands in Ireland, revealing surprising findings. Three brands have introduced biodegradable teabags to its ranges, meaning they can decompose into the environment and the ranges of six brands do not biodegrade.

Here’s the ‘tea’ about Ireland’s teabags

The process undertaken for UCC’s study focused on two experiments. The first was an outdoor experiment which buried the teabags in organic soil[ii], emulating real-life environmental conditions, and a second chemical test which verified these results. To learn more about the experiments, watch this video.

The research concluded that Lyons Tea is the only major[iii] black tea brand whose entire range biodegrades completely into the environment, fully degrading in less than 75 days. Interestingly, according to independent research[iv], 73% of shoppers dispose of all teabags into a food waste (brown) bin but the scientific experiments proves that Lyons Tea is the only full major black tea range in Ireland that can be disposed of in this way.

Other major tea ranges either remained intact or in a brittle form during the same tests. The ranges that do not biodegrade use a petroleum-based plastic called polypropylene. Polypropylene is a non-biodegradable plastic that will produce microplastics and can remain in the environment for a very long time.

Call to make the switch

Lyons Tea is subsequently calling on all Irish tea brands to switch to a fully biodegradable range.

Dr Mateos Cárdenas explained that while Lyons Tea is still the only major black tea brand in Ireland that will completely biodegrade across its entire range, there are teabags from all other tea brand ranges that are polluting the environment. Some other brands have made positive changes, including another well-known Irish tea brand that recently introduced biodegradable teabags to parts of its range. While these brands appear to still be on a journey as some teabags across these ranges still contain plastic, it is a much-needed step in the right direction to achieving true sustainability in the Irish tea sector.

“We’ve worked really hard to ensure our Lyons Tea bags are plant-based and biodegradable and it’s not been without its challenges, but we’ve now removed 100 tonnes of petroleum-based plastic from our tea bags since making the switch,” said Fiachra Moloney, general manager, Tea Division, Unilever UK & Ireland. “This is the equivalent of 20 million standard plastic bags. We know Irish tea drinkers are looking for easy ways to reduce their plastic consumption and we’re hoping other tea brands in Ireland can follow Lyons Tea and become plant-based in the future.”



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