A: Cup to Compost

In order to track the organic waste that I personally accumulated over a one-day period, I monitored what foods I consume on an average day. I recorded my food intake, where I generally consume food and the subsequent organic waste.

food intake.jpggjh.jpg

I noted that I generally consume food at home or at work. In both of these environments plastic, glass and paper waste is separated for recycling. However, organic waste is disposed as part of the general waste and therefore ends up in landfill, something that could be easily changed if recycling methods in any given environment were altered.

In analysing the created organic waste, I decided to further investigate the lifecycle of a tea bag that I always dispose of in general waste. I selected the tea bag, as with the small label, staple and string I wasn’t sure if the tea bag is a viable choice for composting. This point was contested widely on many recycling sites and blogs. I ultimately determined that the tea itself and a majority of tea bags are recyclable, the small staple, used in some tea varieties just needing to be removed.

Tea is the most consumed manufactured drink in the world (Chang, 2015). Therefore, despite being comparatively small in size, compared to other organic waste, when recycled correctly they could significantly reduce the amount of organic matter ending up in landfill annually.

In thinking about the tea bag that I created as organic waste, I began to consider its lifecycle:

–       Grown for multiple weeks in countries such as China and India with the appropriate climate.

–       The tea is then harvested and dried.

–       Tea is shipped to a manufacturing warehouse where it is packaged.

–       Tea is shipped 1000s of miles to Australia.

–       After its arrival it is transported to a warehouse.

–       From the warehouse it is transported to a supermarket.

–       Purchased in a supermarket and transported home.

–       Diffused in hot water for a few minutes.

–       Dispose of in the general waste.

Considering the resources expended for me to drink a single bag of tea, I determined that this is something I can easily recycle either by reducing the number of teabags I use and buying loose leaf tea or by recycling the teabags themselves.

 In researching current methods of tea recycling I came across an initiative put into place by Unilever, the world’s largest tea company to tackle the issue of 370,000 tonnes of tea bags being sent to landfill in the UK each year (Unilever, 2013).  Amongst a variety of initiatives to create public awareness, Unilever teamed up with Brentwood Borough and Chelmsford Councils to encourage residents to dispose of their teabags amongst other organic waste in council food waste collections rather than in their general waste (Recycling Guide UK, 2012).

Prior to conducting this campaign, Unilever researched consumer’s knowledge concerning the recycling of tea bags. It showed that “more than 4 in 10 consumers are not aware that it is possible to recycle tea bags, yet more than 8 in 10 might or would consider recycling them if they knew how to go about it” (Unilever, 2013). This indicates that it is often a lack of knowledge that prevents positive recycling habits and which any recycling initiative, education is of paramount importance.


Kaison Chang. 2015, ‘World Tea Production and Trade: Current and Future Development’, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States, viewed 10 June 2016, <http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4480e.pdf>

Recycling Guide UK. 2012, ‘Unilever Encouraging Tea Bag Recycling’, weblog, viewed 10 June 2016< http://www.recycling-guide.org.uk/blog-unilever-encouraging-tea-bag-recycling.html>

Unilever 2013, From cup to compost: PG tips tackles the issue of tea bag waste with Recyclebank, viewed 10 June 2016 <https://www.unilever.co.uk/news/press-releases/2013/from-cup-to-compost-pg-tips-tackles-the-issue-of-tea-bag-waste-with-recyclebank.html>



One thought on “A: Cup to Compost”

  1. Tea itself is an organic material, and thus compostable. But many people seem to fail to consider this. However, the tea bags themselves can be made of different materials, and from what I have seen of a compost heap with them in… they don’t degrade, or if they do, they take a very long time. I’ve started using more loose leaf tea, although that too is often supplied in unfriendly packaging.


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