The Packaging Labyrinth - an update

It's been a little over two years since our last post on where we stand with all things packaging. We clearly owe you an update. So where are we now on the quest to improve our packaging?

We haven't been sitting here twiddling our thumbs. What have we been up to?

  • We moved from smaller in-house trials, to rolling out a few different pouch materials on a wider scale as part of our testing efforts. You may have noticed different looking pouches when ordering your tea.
  • We have started offering more and more larger bags for our tea – less packaging, less waste.
  • The larger bags have now shifted over to being LDPE plastic and have a grip closure, making them resealable.

What is LDPE plastic? Isn't all plastic bad?

LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) is rather an old form of plastic – first produced in 1933. But old isn't always a negative.

It falls into category (or stream) 4 recycling. We made the decision to switch to more LDPE material (for now) for the following benefits:

  • It is recyclable through supermarkets/drop-off centres.
  • Once correctly recycled the lifecycle of the material is extended – think bin bags, pipes and outdoor furniture.

As I explained in my last post, plastic is not necessarily the enemy number one. Have a listen to "Plastic Rehab" TED Talk by Professor Kim Ragaert of now Maastricht University. We need to find ways to deal with our waste rather than just hating plastic.

What's the deal with virgin and recycled plastics?

It was a revelation to me to discover that recycled plastic cannot be further recycled, at least not at the moment. So, any recycled plastic pouches have to go to landfill. Lifecycle done.

As such, any plastic that you can recycle at home or in the supermarket is made from virgin material.

Change does seem to be coming as big operations put money into development – read here about a famous red & white chocolate bar. They are lengthening the lifecycle of recycled material. It's interesting to note that they, for now, seem to also only be able to use 80% recycled material paired with 20% virgin plastics. Recycling would also not be possible at home with this material.

Our hope is that these materials improve and will become available to the wider market for us to access.

But you're thinking, "what about compostable material"?

We keep going back and forth when it comes to compostable materials.

Here is why we have not switched all of our pouch materials to compostable equivalents:

  • Home food waste collections with your local council are sadly not yet widely available and we understand that not everyone can compost at home.
  • We need to be conscious of the origin and process of making compostable materials – conventional monocrop agricultures and high carbon use are not things we wish to support, as you all know.
  • Our precious leaves demand quite a long shelf life – beyond that of current compostable material. Imagine if we ruined a full spring harvest because the air got in?

Things are improving though. It won't be long.

Then there is the term "biodegradable".

Too often the term is used to greenwash. I keep seeing it everywhere and not used with thought or in the right context. Biodegradable is not always the preferred option. Or does anyone else really want a sludge of single use microplastics leaking into our soils and environment? That's what is commonly left of biodegradable products when they decompose on landfill.

Mismanaging our waste is a big part of the packaging problem.

What can I do to help?

We need your time and patience, please. I know, I know, our society has drilled into us that time is money, and our world today just moves quicker and quicker. But what did we get when the food industry jumped on the "time is money" bandwagon?

TV dinners, the removal of nutrients from our meals/food and yes, the TEABAG for a quick cup of industrial tea. Eugh.

What is needed from me at home exactly?

Have a look at your waste – does it indicate how best to recycle it? If yes, then please follow it. It might mean that you have a bag with soft plastics (e.g. LDPE or stream 4 recycling) at home which you take to your supermarket or drop-off point once filled.

If the product doesn't indicate how to recycle it, I would sadly be inclined to assume that it is not recyclable and needs to go to landfill.

How can I find a local drop off point for soft plastics?

Speak to your local supermarket or check your local council website (or Recycle Now if you're in the UK) – they should know. I also really appreciate the work of TerraCycle where you can have a look at various recycling programs. Some even allow you to send your waste in rather than having to drop it off somewhere. Some are sponsored by the big seven tea buying companies. When I find one that works for me (obviously not for their teas), it always gives me joy that I can benefit from their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) money.

My little London kitchen has quite a few bags hanging on the door where we collect various things for various recycling programs.

What does this all mean for Rare Tea Company's packaging?

We are rolling out bigger trials again in 2023. Switching more pouches to LDPE and some of our teas in tins will go into a compostable pouch for the first time. Working on our labelling will go hand in hand with this to make sure we communicate how to best recycle the pouches.

Here's to slowing down a little and extending lifecycles.

If you still have any questions or news to share with us, please get in touch here.