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We’re working on a fully biodegradable paper tea bag, making Co-op Food the first retailer to find a solution to the problem of plastic waste caused by the nation’s favourite beverage.

Many tea drinkers are blissfully unaware that the teabag from their daily cuppa is sealed using plastic. Even though it’s a relatively small amount, when you consider the six billion cups of tea that are brewed up every year in the UK, we are looking at around 150 tonnes of polypropylene – that’s an enormous amount of accumulated plastic waste that is either contaminating food waste compost collections or simply going to landfill.

A cup of tea is part of our national psyche, so we felt it was imperative that we fix the problem as soon as possible. We’re absolutely committed to reducing plastic in our packaging and want to ensure that tea lovers can enjoy a guilt-free brew.

Our famous Co-op 99 tea will be developed without polypropylene, which is an industry-wide method used to enable teabags to hold their shape. This could save nine tonnes of plastic every year from being dumped into household rubbish and compost collections.

A photo of Co-op Fairtrade 99 Tea Blend Tea Bags

Co-op Fairtrade 99 Tea Blend – Tea Bags

The new bio-degradable bag which is due to undergo rigorous testing in February could be on shelves later this year. Intended to be rolled out across the Co-op’s entire own-label standard tea range, it will be fully compostable in food waste collections after use.

This latest development is one of the many we’re making as part of our long-term ambition for 100% of our product packaging to be recyclable with an interim target of 80% by 2020. This includes reducing the use of unnecessary and hard-to-recycle plastic packaging and using more recycled content wherever possible.

Jo Whitfield,
Co-op Food CEO

Join the conversation! 50 Comments

  1. Jo Whitfield CEO, having tried to purchase Coop 99 Loose Leaf tea for some friends, between us we have visited about 10 stores and no one has it. Does the ‘paper free’ tea bags article on here mean that there will be no more loose tea in stores. I need to be able to inform my friends they have preferred it for years and years, I would be delighted to receive a reply to pass on.

    Reply
    • I am a member of your National Group and also The East of England Society we are unable to purchase 99 loose Tea. I do look forward to hearing from you are you going to retail Coop 99 tea for Customers Members any more.

      Retired member of the East of England Coop Society.
      Colin Ginger.

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      • Information on your new tea bags does not answer the question about availability of LOOSE 99 tea..!!!!

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

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  2. Hi coop are your teabags compostable yet? I’m thinking of switching back to whole leaf tea and a metal diffuser so it would be good if the price of whole leaf tea comes down.

    Given a lot of people are shopping in those zero waste stores now I’d love to see supermarkets have such options do you have any plans for similar zero waste items?

    Congrats on the work you’re doing so far.

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  3. Are coop 99 tea bags compostible in a home/garden compost heap?
    Some manufacturers claim a compostible solution but only in commercial composting operations where more heat is generated

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  4. There have not been any co-op
    Teabags in my local store for over two weeks ?? 😡why is that ? Ditchling road /Preston drove store

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  5. All my local co-ops have been sold off so I now have to make a special trip just to get my teabags, but when I do I’m lucky if I can find any co-op tea at all. So if anyone is actually keeping this blog up, let me know about the situation with co-op fair-trade tea (red packet). Posted 2nd Sep 2019.

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  6. Are they recyclable now? We hate putting them. In the bin!

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  7. Clipper tea make plastic-free tea bags. If they can do it why can’t anyone else do it?

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  8. […] Jo: We’re working on biodegradable paper tea bags. [online] Blog.Coop.co.uk. Available from: https://blog.coop.co.uk/2018/01/27/were-working-on-biodegradable-paper-tea-bags/ [Accessed 20. Feb. […]

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  9. I picked up your article when searching for plastic free teabags on the internet. I thought I’d try a box of your 99 teabags. They didn’t have a plastic sleeve on the outside and 9 months on from the date of the article I thought some progress towards plastic free had probably been made. Totally dismayed to find there are six individual plastic “foil” wrapped packets inside. Why? Couldn’t the bags be in a paper wrapper if you need secondary wrapping? I feel cheated. I should have stuck with PGTips. Their huge box has loose bags with only a thin cellophane wrapper. Although it is also plastic and non recyclable it weighs less than the 6 bags in your box.
    At least I now know what “film” means.

    Also, are your teabags plastic free yet?

    Reply
    • Hi Sharon. We’ll be communicating something soon on our Plastic Free Tea Bags. Stay tuned. Thanks, ^Ian

      Reply
      • We went to the Coop Live event in Wrexham today and it was announced that Coop 99 tea bags were plastic free. However, when I went to buy some, there was no indication on the box that this was the case and the store assistant was unaware. Has this happened or not? If it has, why is there not much more publicity given to it? Ditto the cotton wool buds which do not have plastic stems but I would never have known about it if I hadn’t been to this event!

        Reply
  10. […] We’re working on biodegradable paper tea bags […]

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  11. […] We’re working on biodegradable tea bags […]

    Reply
    • Biodegradable – what exactly does this mean. It’s a word that is used without definition which can cause confusion. If it is something that goes into food waste for pick up by the council, please can you make this statement to make it clear so that it is not put on home compost heaps rather than the plastic free statements which are also questionable?
      Thanks

      Reply
      • If it can go in the food waste collection, why could it not go in your home compost? It won’t make much smell or attract vermin, and I would expect it to break down faster than hedge clippings. While the bag itself probably wouldn’t add much benefit to your garden I understand the tea leaves are a rich fertilizer.

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  12. […] We’re working on biodegradable paper tea bags […]

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  13. I wrote to the Co-op some years ago complaining that the used teabags I was putting in my compost bins did not degrade. I did not received any feedback and did not realise then that plastic was the problem as this had not been raised publicly as an issue. Thank goodness you are at last doing something about it.

    Reply
  14. I along with many others have woken up to the huge plastic problem we are facing. The complexity, confusing and poor recycling rates mean we urgently need to do all we can to stop using plastic as much as possible, recyclable or not.
    I love my local Coop but sadly there is little I can buy that isn’t wrapped in plastic, much of it non recyclable, that I’ve had to shop elsewhere far more. Please do all you can to pioneer a packaging revolution to eradicate all plastic at speed and challenge other retailers to do the same.

    Reply
  15. […] We’re working on biodegradable tea bags […]

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  16. […] news of the UK launch follows an announcement from the Co-Op in January, which said it plans to ditch the plastic strip that seals its own-brand 99p tea bags and replace […]

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  17. It is terrific that you and others are developing these tea bags – I trust they won’t come in plastic wrapped boxes ;-).
    Could you also please start selling fruit and veg loose and provide paper bags rather than plastic where necessary.

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  18. This is marvellous. Now please start wrapping all goods in paper, albeit greaseproof paper, instead of plastic. Totally fed with ubiquitous plastic, both visible and invisible. Need I specify that we want our paper or cardboard packaging exclusively using recycled paper and cardboard?

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  19. […] making Co-op Fairtrade 99 Blend tea bags biodegradable […]

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  20. My local farncombe store is always very cold to shop in

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  21. I have noticed when shopping at the co-op that all your cages are wrapped in plastic cling film wrap is this not just creating to the problem. I think you should more concerned about how cold your shops are compared to other stores I know it puts a lot of people off as this is not a good shopping experience.

    Reply
    • Hi Dave, the majority of delivery cages are not wrapped in plastic anymore. The only ones that are, are from our national distribution centre in Coventry. This only accounts for maybe 5-10% of stock we receive from Co-op depots.

      Which store have you noticed was cold? All of our stores have Energy management systems which ensure they are kept around 18-21 degrees, whilst using the least amount of energy to do so.

      Reply
      • Well having talked to staff about cages being wrapped in cling film your 5% _10% seems untrue as all the cages that recycle cardboard and plastic and also food waste are all wrapped in cling film. And I also found out co-op don’t give any of there staff a paid break. Come on co-op even fairtrade workers in 3rd world countries get a paid break
        I believe the co-op is going backwards rather than forward

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  22. How much development is required to change from non recyclable Black Plastic used in meat tray’s to White plastic trays ?

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  23. Will they be used for all your own brand teabags? Decaf and fruit teas too?

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  24. Wonderful that the co-op are going to be having these, however as an ethical company I believe you need to be doing more. I was horrified the other day to see bags of bread rolls thrown away as they had reached sell by date. Such a waste of everything, the flour has been grown somewhere, baking the bread, transporting it,only to be thrown. I live in Brighton and there are so many homeless people on the streets and charities that would use it, why not donate it before it goes off.

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  25. Fab, hope they hit the shelves soon- would be great if they were also unbleached.

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  26. Good for you. I will spread the message.

    ________________________________

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  27. Is there a plastic-free packaging option for coffee being “brewed” too? I’d even swap to coffee beans if this was an option for my daily cuppa caffeine.

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  28. This is very good news and will save me having to pick tea bag bags out of the compost lol. Having said that can you explain the reasons behind changing the packaging of 99 Tea so that previously loose bags are now in non recyclable foil wrapping?

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  29. This is great news. But I do think that with other announcements from other businesses, The Co-op isn’t really leading this area anymore.

    I shop in The Co-op loads and would love it to go radical and only use plastic where all other options have been exhausted. Then I’d move even more of shopping over to The Co-op.

    There’s still tons of avoidable plastic in packaging especially on produce. Surely it can be replaced with paper?

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    • Completely agree. Iceland seem to be way ahead of Co-Op on this one. Can’t even buy a single tomato or onion at our local Co-Op.

      Reply
    • Hi Alex, thank you for your feedback. Not many consumers are aware of plastic in tea bags and so we are serving to educate those consumers to make the environmentally friendly choice when it comes to the nations favourite beverage. We’re also looking at ways of reducing packaging overall.
      We’re taking on board your feedback. Please do keep an eye on our blog for future updates on packaging. ^Siobhan

      Reply
  30. I had no idea. Thank you for enlightening me, and for your endeavours to stop this practise.

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  31. Well done my favourite shop. Will be buying to support this initiative and hope other tea suppliers will follow your lead.

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  32. Thank you for this initiative I will certainly make a point of buying them.

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  33. Hi Geoff, thanks for the feedback, we’re working to make our packaging easier to recycle, you can find out more here http://coop.uk/2Bz1RCR ^SB

    Reply
  34. I always use red label loose tea. But you recently started packing it in plastic bag, not as it used to be in a paper bag.

    Reply
  35. GREAT NEWS !

    Reply

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