The environment, waste and our packaging...

Hi lovely readers,

I am Kathi and have been with Rare Tea since 2017 – I found my way here through working in hotels and restaurants – very beautiful places and what a career. I wanted more, I dreamt of being able to do something meaningful and I realised that a textbook career wasn’t what would make me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved my job in the hotel world – the sense of camaraderie, the rush, the energy – I loved it so much I cried whilst trying to resign. But I have always been a tea person, I don’t even know how it started (my grandma’s afternoon tea & cake hour maybe), the more I learned, the more I wanted to know and try. So, I literally bombarded Henrietta one night "I have resigned, please may I work for you".

The deeper I dive, the more I see the injustice in tea. Henrietta once remarked that when I am excited, care or have an idea my voice suddenly goes louder – a polite English way of telling me that I am of the emotional type. (Please envision the next part in this louder, excited, caring voice.)

How can someone so skilled be paid so little for their craft at farm level?

Why is everyone still drinking this baggy tea? (even my mum who is supplied the most wonderful leaves through us and still has those bags in her cupboard & saves the loose leaf for special occasions).

Why do we care so much about labels & certifications?

There is so much more to tea.

90% of all tea in Europe & North America is bought by just 7 companies. Let that sink in. That buying power. It is scary.

But today I want to talk about something else I care about – the environment, waste = our packaging. For months now we have been looking at what to do with our packaging. Towing back and forth, annoying suppliers with tons of questions, asking various people for their thoughts, even stalking university professors (who then actually answered & really helped us) and we have come to a few conclusions.

We want our tea to be packaged to retain its quality which is the tricky bit – we need oxygen & moisture barriers.

We don’t want to compromise here as this is our main revolution – showcasing our beautiful leaves and making the new standard of tea better – better for us who drink it and better for the farmers & communities who produce it.

We had to pick our battles here and this is ours: changing the standard of tea.  As much as we want to switch to fully compostable options, we for now chose not to go down this route just yet and are opting for a fully recyclable route for now.

Here is why:

Most of you sadly won’t be able to compost at home or have their local recycling infrastructure ready for food recycling – the moment this changes, we will change our packaging – this is the future.

Ideally bio-based (so not made from fossil-fuel, but part of the natural cycle) material made with renewable energy – this is us dreaming of the future we so desperately need for our planet.

And not bio-based material that just eats up crucial landmass and is grown in a monocrop format like corn. We are dreaming of the algae development maybe. If you know anyone who is down this route – please let us know.

We are also dreaming of a unified standard that every recycling plant can deal with and not thousand of options that sound wonderful on paper, but then don’t work out in real life for us everyday users.

Something I have learned as well is that if we put compostable material into our regular recycling we can actually cause more harm by contaminating the whole batch of recyclable material = it then being send to landfill rather than being recycled. Oh, and if compostable material hits landfill, where they degrade without oxygen, they release greenhouse gases. Scenario 2: the bio-based material reaches landfill but doesn’t actually break down as landfills don’t get to temperatures needed to degrade those, then those will simply mummify like all the other waste. This leads us again back to the need for a change of our recycling infrastructure – we need to be able to distinguish recyclable from compostable material. How would this work for public litter bins? Probably something else that needs looking at.

In the meantime, we are trying really hard to find some fully recyclable material for our pouches – here as mentioned above the moisture & oxygen barrier are proving tricky for us as those are mostly done by multi-layering different plastics which then make the whole product hard to recycle. National Geographic reported in 2018 that only 9% of all plastic produced is recycled. We seem to be so far off the closed-loop idea as we possibly could be. We have also launched larger pouches & tins to help you with your daily standard teas at least as the only way of course to solve it all is total reduction of waste we produce.

And whilst we are at it – plastic is not all evil and every company that shames plastic and proudly presents their “plastic-free” solution might not necessarily be telling the truth. (There is a reason why I am a big doubter of marketing slang.) By definition “plastics” is a polymers/compounds which can be moulded & shaped by pressure and temperature. So essentially a lot of those companies are using bioplastics. I highly recommend listening to the “Plastic Rehab” TED Talk by Kim Ragaert of Ghent University. 

We just thought we should keep you up to date on what we are doing. Luckily, scientists are working hard to develop these materials and I for one have hope. The more all of us as individuals ask our councils / representatives for a composting option (or are setting one up in our gardens if we are fortunate enough to have one), then change is close and something we can all actively help to achieve.

Whilst we are talking about things that we can each do to change the system – let’s quickly turn back to tea – every time we pick up a tea ask yourselves “how did it get here?” or “do I know where it is from & who made it” before buying it. Another option: boycotting those 7 companies as a whole – Google them – you’d be surprised how many umbrella companies they have.  It is time for each of us to do what we can do to change the world, just that little bit.  Talk to your friends & family about tea, refusing to drink the dreadful one at work or whilst out & about (questioning why keep-cups can’t be used right now is a good one too). Comparing battery chicken and baggy tea really worked for my group of friends. Here it circles back to my initial thought – my dream of doing something meaningful & making use of my privileged position in this world.

Some more reading material from Wrap: