Drinking tea sustainably

earth day, sustainable tea


If you enjoy a good cup of tea a few times a day, you are doing your health a huge favor. You may be brewing some green tea in the morning to start your day, grabbing a cup before heading to a meeting or sipping a chai latte during an afternoon break. I personally drink tea all day long and almost never leave the house without my favorite tea tumbler. Of cause, I have a full cup of tea on my desk right now as I write this post. 

Drinking tea is a basic part of many cultures; however, how often do we think about how our tea drinking habits impact the planet?

Like with most things we consume or use every day, it can be difficult to think about the ethical or environmental implications of what we are doing. Tea, like everything else, has an environmental footprint.

Tea starts with the plant called Camellia sinensis which thrives in areas with acidic soils and heavy rainfall. The most obvious marker of your tea’s carbon footprint is be the way it has been grown, processed and how far it has been transported, but packaging and the way you take your tea also have a significant impact.

The carbon footprint of a cup of black tea is 20g CO2. That means that four cups of black tea per day equates to 30kg CO2 per year, equivalent to a 40 mile car drive. This number doubles if you prefer your tea with milk. 

However, if you are reading this during a stop at Starbucks half way through a five hour drive, don’t loose heart. There are things you can do to become a more eco-minded tea drinker.

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider:

1. Invest in a durable reusable mug

Instead of drinking your tea out of a disposable cup while you are at the office or on the go, invest in a sturdy thermos or mug. Even if the disposable cups are biodegradable, the amount of packaging you’ll eliminate overtime will help cut down on waste. Find yourself a travel mug you adore. There so many styles out there to choose from! Glass or stainless steel - your choice. Just make sure it’s well insulated to keep our beverage hot for a few hours, leak proof and BPA free. One of my personal picks are Menna and this one from Zojirushi. Menna has a built in loose tea infuser but Zojirushi fits up to 20 oz of tea and works better for all day outings and long drives.

2. Go minimal with tea packaging

When you shop for tea, choose brands that use sustainable packaging. Look for recycled paper or recycled plastic packages or tins if you plan on reusing them. In general, loose teas requires less packaging than tea bags and are therefore more sustainable and less expensive per cup. Better yet, once you’ve found a tea that suits your fancy, buy it in bulk.  By buying it in larger quantities instead of the smaller packaging, you’ll be reducing the amount of packaging you go through. Remember, even if the material it is packaged in is recyclable (like our jars are), it still takes a considerable amount of energy to turn it back into something of use!

3. Use filtered water

Instead of using bottled spring water or water from your office’s water cooler, invest in a water filter that you can use with tap water. The amount of packaging you’ll reduce from bottles and the amount of gas and energy you’ll shave off from shipping those water jugs to your office each month will be astonishing!

4. Measure the amount of water you need before you boil your kettle

The other thing to be mindful of is how you boil the water. Overfilling the kettle could add significantly to the carbon footprint of your cup of tea. An easy fix is to measure the amount of water you need first by filling up the cup or mug and transferring this to your kettle. If you boil the kettle on a stove as opposed to using an electric kettle, all the better, as electricity is quite an inefficient way of producing heat. Remember to always use freshly boiled water to make your tea and don’t reboil your water. 

 5. Re-steep your tea

The beauty of hight quality teas is that they can be re-steeped multiple times. Instead of disposing of the tea leaves right away, try steeping them again and notice the differences between the first, the second and the following infusions. Some tea leaves may not even fully open during the first steeping and will surprise you if you give them a second chance!

6. Reuse the tea leaves

Apart from making your body healthier, your taste buds happier and your day brighter, tea leaves can be used in so many different ways.   

  • Tea is a fantastic source of nutrients for your plants. They're particularly great for acid-loving plants, like tomatoes and roses, but any plant will be happy to have some tea leaves in its soil. To feed your garden with tea, just sprinkle the used leaves onto the soil around the base of the plant.
  • Tea has been used to clean hardwood floors for ages. Instead of rubbing potentially toxic solutions into your dull hardwood floor, why not use tea, with its shine-adding tanic acid?
  • Replace your hair conditioner with tea. Not only does tea act like a leave-in conditioner, but it can also help brighten or darken your natural hair color, and help promote hair growth. Brew the tea like you're going to drink it, and then pour it over your hair and massage it in. Let it sit for five minutes, then rinse it out.
  • Aleviate eye strain with black tea. Brew the tea in teabags or muslin cloth, let it cool and apply the compress to the tired eyes for a quick relief.

Now, put the kettle on and enjoy a warming cup of tea. Tea is one of the earth’s best treasures, so let’s give back to the earth by being conscious and making the most out of it. 

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