Yorkshire Tea Bags are my first choice when it comes to tea.
It’s not just because my dad is from Yorkshire (although admittedly he does insist on buying them). I prefer the strong taste to other teas, and I am also impressed by the work they have done for the environment.
So I’ve always been interested in whether you can compost them.
That’s especially the case as we go through a lot of tea bags in the office, where I already keep a kitchen compost bin to collect compostable waste like coffee.
Plus, tea is ideal for the compost heap. It’s high in nitrogen, and the small particle size of the tea leaves makes it easier for compost bacteria to break them down.
However, when I first wrote our guide to composting tea bags, Yorkshire Tea had run into some issues with their compostable tea bags.
After starting to roll them out, they found the tea bags were breaking apart when hot water was added.
A New Compostable Tea Bag?
Since then the company has been working with the University of Sheffield to come up with a new process. They now use a plant-based plastic called polylactic acid (PLA) which is made of materials such as corn starch.
These are still plastic but should break down over time. What’s more, research suggests that a compost heap can contain up to 30% PLA before any negative effects are seen.
The company advises people not to compost tea bags at home, but instead to put them out for kerbside collections for green or food waste, as they find the teabag does not compost well in home composting systems.
I have had mixed results myself. There have been times when I have seen the remains of tea bags in my compost, and other times when I haven’t. I certainly saw no remnants in my last batch.
That is likely to be down to the heat generated. PLA, at least when it is made to the right standards, breaks down at 111 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (44 – 60 celsius).
When I queried this with Yorshire Tea, they told me:
We have never recommended composting at home. WRAP UK doesn’t recommend home composting and we haven’t yet seen any good studies showing that that the PLA part will break down in the sort of time gardeners and home composters would think is reasonable. The conditions on the majority of home compost heaps just don’t seem quite right – UK temperatures aren’t hot enough.
It’s likely that many home compost systems don’t reach or maintain the heat needed to break down PLAs.
On the other hand, I think Yorshire Tea might not be quite right, as if you have set up your heap or bin right it is possible to achieve high temperatures despite inclement weather.
So, if your compost does reach – and sustain – high temperatures, you should be fine. However, if you are worried, follow the advice in the FAQs to safely compost the tea bags.
If you want to compost the teabags and are worried about the bags, an alternative is to snip the bags open and empty the tea bags.
You can then dispose of the actual bags either in your green waste collection (if available) or in your usual trash.
Yes, but these are plant-based plastics or PLA rather than oil based plastics.
Sort of. Yorkshire tea bags will break down if they are exposed to hot composting conditions when the heat reaches 111 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (44 – 60 celsius).
The box that holds the teabag is made from cartonboard. Yorkshire Tea suggests this goes in your recycling – and for good reason, as the material can be used up to 25 times. However, it can also go in your compost where it can act as a high carbon (brown) material to balance out high nitrogen (green) materials.
The outer film is made of oil-based plastic and is not compostable. However, the company is working on changing this.