We're replacing the oil-based plastic in our tea bags with a plant-based plastic called PLA, and about 1/5 of our UK Yorkshire Tea bags have now switched. They’ve been in the shops since February so you may already have bought some!
We were going to roll it out to more machines this year, but Covid-19 has brought big changes for factories. Keeping our staff distanced means keeping production simple, and the switch to PLA is anything but simple.
We’re really sorry that it’s going to take longer than we hoped. The plan is to restart it in January 2021, so half are switched by the end of April, about 4/5 are switched by the end of July and the last few machines make the switch by November – at which point all UK Yorkshire Tea, Yorkshire Gold, Yorkshire Tea Decaf and Yorkshire Tea for Hard Water will be made with PLA.
Tea bags aren't the only thing that’s changing. We want all our packaging to be "circular" – which means made from renewable, plant-based or recycled materials, and also reusable, recyclable or compostable after use. You can find out more here.
PLA tea bags are sometimes called "plastic free”, but we've never used that label and WRAP, the people behind the UK Plastics Pact, also advise against it because plant-based plastics are still plastics.
Why change from one plastic to another? Well unlike traditional plastics, which are made from fossil fuels, plant-based plastics are made from renewable biological sources (like corn starch).
It's also better when it’s thrown away, as long as it goes in the right bin. PLA tea bags are industrially compostable, which means they can go in food waste or garden waste bins for the council to compost.
As it's so important to dispose of them like this to get the biggest environmental benefit, we want to be completely accurate when we talk about them. So we're following WRAP's advice and avoiding the phrase "plastic free".