Tea Bags

I received an email with questions about using tea leaves from spent tea bags in the garden, so I did a little research on the subject. Things are not perfect but they are improved on a few years ago.

The Teabag Question

If tea drinking was an Olympic sport the wife and I would be gold medal winners.

I used to put the used tea bags onto the garden and veggie beds but after reading that tea bags contain plastic I am now drying the tea bags and taking out the tea leaves and this I have mixed this into my greenhouse bed compost.

Is this tea any good in the garden, if yes how much or am I wasting my time?

Back in 2019, before the Covid struck, there was a clamour about the humble teabag containing plastic and not composting. We use around a 100 million teabags a day in Britain, so a good example of individual small actions adding up to something very significant.

Then the Covid arrived and we all had other things to worry about. But the plastic teabag problem remains today even if the social media mobs have new causes to shout about. Some producers of teabags took note though and things have improved somewhat with the more general introduction of PLA plastic in teabag manufacture

Not all teabags contain plastic, just many. Generally it’s the expensive speciality teas that don’t use any plastic. You can still buy loose tea without any bag but it’s now a premium product that costs more than the equivalent in teabags. That’s a bit mad!

PLA (Polyactic Acid) Plastic in Teabags

Many producers have moved onto PLA (Polyactic Acid) in their teabags. That’s actually a plastic made from corn starch or sugar cane that can be commercially composted. If your council operates a bio-digesting food waste scheme. You can check your teabag producer’s web site or email them as to the composition of their teabags.

Nutrient Value of Teabag Tea Leaves

Getting hard information on the nutrient value of used tea leaves is difficult. For a start, the nutrients levels vary according to the type of leaves, their age and how long they were steeped for. There’s a general consensus that the NPK value of tea leaves is around 16:1:1 with some other trace nutrients. So steeped tea leaves have some small nutritional value.

The process of drying out the bags, cutting them open and extracting the leaves is obviously quite time consuming. The bags are then disposed of in the general waste stream that goes to landfill or, if the right sort, into the council food waste bin.

Best Use

The leaves would be more usefully added to a general compost heap rather than directly applied to the soil. Personally I’d be hard pressed to justify the time involved in extracting leaves from bags for a fairly minimal amount of nutritional value to the garden.

We drink a lot of tea made with teabags in our house. The spent teabags just go into the Hotbin compost bin. I must admit to seeing a few bags (without the leaves) come through the process. Not as many as you might fear though. Possibly this is due to us using a Hotbin for food waste. It’s not perfect, but like most things it’s a compromise. Not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
21 comments on “Tea Bags
  1. Lin Cummings says:

    I also add the tea bags to the compost bin and have done so for over 30 years.

    On many occasions over many years I have found little nests of the tea bags (less the leaves) where mum and baby mice have set up home in the warmth of the bin.

    When emptying the bin I collect the little bags up and dispose of them.

    Nature is a wonder

  2. Wendy Donovan says:

    We stopped using tea bags in the garden due to the plastic issue. We now use coffee grounds on the veg bed, courtesy of the local coffee shop.

  3. John Goode says:

    Thank you for this article. I looked at tea bags for the garden just prior to lockdown and came to the conclusion that there was no pint due to the risk of plastic. What I did start, was to collect the residue steeped tea in the tea pot in an old watering can and use it as a liquid fertiliser on plants and shrubs. To be honest, I have have brilliant results on my roses.

  4. Barbara Ronald says:

    There are several producers now supplied tea in bags whicn contain NO plastic..
    Clipper being one of them.

    • John Harrison says:

      I know there are a number of premium brands that use no plastic (as I wrote) and more using PLA which is better than hydrocarbon based plastics being made from starch. I think Clipper use PLA but without checking I may be wrong.

  5. Robert says:

    Have used ‘spent’ tea bags in the base of pots to cover the drainage holes….just to slow the drainage down for moisture loving plants.

  6. Jack clay says:

    I compost in heap and put them in bean trench helps maintain moisture during dry spells

  7. Joe Fitzgerald says:

    I stopped composting tea bags when I realised the bags were not breaking down.
    Not to compost tea leaves seemed a waste and, after some dithering, we switched back to making tea with loose leaves – Yorkshire Tea is readily available in leaf form.
    A nice surprise – we get a better cup of tea this way than we did with tea bags. However, I recommend a modern strainer with very fine mesh. Glad we made the change.

  8. Stuart says:

    Clipper tea bags are made from paper but are sealed using PLA.

    I mostly put kitchen waste in to a wormery and was told to exclude tea bags, citrus peel and onion skins because they all lower the pH. Worms prefer a higher (less acidic) pH.

  9. Kevin M says:

    I put the tea bags in my wormery. This seems to work well. I use Yorkshire tea bags which are the plant based plastic bags.

  10. Dave Dennis says:

    I always put all my used tea bags in my homemade composter. I have noticed that when the composting process is finished (after about a year), there are some what looks like the remains of plastic tea bags. These don’t seem enough to cause any mischief on my allotment so are they doing any harm?

  11. dave halley says:

    composted tea bags for years. always tear them open and never had any not breakdown.

  12. Royston Thomas says:

    We use PG Tips teabags which are advertised as “biodegradable” which I assume means they are made from PLA. They do seem to partially rot down in our green Joanna composter over about 12 months and the remains are easily separated when putting compost onto the veg plot.
    Of course leaf tea is best!
    I have found that dried tea from bags and coffee grounds sprinkled thickly around hostas and similar keep the slugs and snails at bay, presumably as they stick to the critters.

  13. Roger douglass says:

    I agree loose tea is much easer and a better cuppa, also you can buy a hinged strainer spoon, ideal for a single cup of tea

  14. Susan Brooks says:

    We gave up using teabags and use leaf tea. It saves the worry about what is in the tea bag.
    I did find a whole lot of the empty bags in my garden a few years ago that’s when we started using leaves only.

  15. Rita Robson says:

    Leaf tea over tea bags any day in my house. Use a teapot with a perforated insert for the tea leaves – no need for a tea strainer or need to get your fingers in the pot to get the used leaves out. But if you don’t mind tea leaves in the bottom of your mug, don’t use a strainer and just sling the dregs on the garden as you are admiring the results of your efforts. win – win.

  16. Rachel Sleightholm says:

    PG Tips tea bags are now fully biodegradable.
    However in the MANY years I’ve been making compost the only teabags I’ve found to remain intact are Lidls sociality teas and occasionally a Pukka tea bag

  17. Mr Martin Horridge says:

    My wife takes great pleasure in splitting all of our spent tea bags, saving the tea in an empty bread bag and discarding the bags. This way if the tea bag contains plastic or not, it doesn’t bother us. You will be surprised how much tea the missus saves. Good job we like eating bread!

  18. Richard Platts says:

    I’ve bought for years the organic unbleached tea bags. I wouldn’t buy anything else. Keep them in a paper bag in a tin in my shed. Make the tea with them, perhaps add some rosemary or lemon balm when in season. I just sling the bags after use under the rosemary Bush or around the grape vine. No complaints yet!

  19. Astrid says:

    We empty out used tea bags into the compost. The old bags go in the black bin if they are one of the commercial brands. We recycle if the bags are degrades let. We also use coffee grounds in the same way. I’ve used coffee grounds as a mulch for a Weeping Standard rose that I had to move in a summer. It looked a gonner, but the coffee grounds pulled it back. It’s still going

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