A plastic update

Posted in Environment, Our News.

A plastic update

Here's an update on the plastic in our tea bags.

We're changing from sealing our bags with oil-based plastic to a compostable plant-based material called PLA. We really wanted to get it all sorted by the end of next month, but we’re not quite there yet.

What is happening next month, though, is that over 100 million of our brand new PLA tea bags will be heading out to the shops. With the help of Sheffield University, we think we've finally cracked how to make them (more on that below).

Meanwhile, we've been working on removing non-recyclable plastic from other bits of our packaging (like the wrap on our tea boxes). We've laid out all our plans here: https://www.yorkshiretea.co.uk/our-packaging

The tea bags

About a year ago, we tested PLA on Yorkshire Gold. We thought we'd got the hang of it and started rolling it out more widely - and then we had a bit of a disaster. The sealing on some bags wasn't working properly and they fell apart in people's mugs. PLA, it turns out, is a lot harder to work with than oil-based plastic.

So we rolled back and we've been testing and trialling ever since. We've tried a ton of stuff - refurbishing our machines, slowing them down, adjusting temperatures and putting the finished tea bags through some pretty extreme tests. Everything's made a difference, but nothing's fixed the problem completely.

Then we called in Sheffield University. Over the last few months, they've been helping us study the tea bag paper - and we reckon we've made a genuine breakthrough. We've used what we've learned to redevelop the tea bag paper itself, and the first rolls of that new improved paper are arriving in the next couple of weeks.

Next month we're going to make over 100 million tea bags with it to send out into the world. We're going to test the heck out of them before they head out the door, but the real test is when you start using them

If all goes well - fingers crossed - we can start rolling it out across the whole factory and get all UK Yorkshire Tea, Yorkshire Gold, Yorkshire Tea Decaf and Yorkshire Tea for Hard Water switched over by the end of next year (December 2020).

It's uncharted territory and there have been some pretty big bumps in the road already, so we have to be upfront about it being an aim, not a promise. What we do promise, though, is to try our best - and to keep being honest and transparent with you.

One last thing to mention is that we're not calling the new tea bags "plastic free”, which is a term you have probably read elsewhere. PLA is made from renewable corn starch and is industrially compostable, so it breaks down in a way that oil-based plastic doesn't, as long as it's disposed of in the right way (food waste and garden waste bins that go to the local council). But PLA is a bioplastic, and that’s technically still a kind of plastic, so we wouldn’t feel quite right calling it “plastic free”.

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