I am that rare thing: a non-coffee-drinking adult. Tea, however, is a constant in my days. As usual, I have a cup beside me now as I work, and a jar of sun tea brewing in the windowsill at home, an easy way to celebrate summer (happy June!).
There are three main options for zero waste tea: buy it in bulk, grow it yourself (no packaging needed!), or buy it in thoughtful, sustainable packaging. I've done all three methods, and though I'm a big fan of my local bulk aisle, you may not have great bulk tea options available near you. Below, the low-down on each of these options, including ideas for getting your tea fix if you can't find bulk tea. Brew a cup using your favorite tea strainer or French press (these teas are all loose leaf!), and let's chat:
Shop in bulk.
This one's self-explanatory, I think: any time you're able to buy something in your own containers sans packaging, zero waste asks that you seize that opportunity. If you're not familiar with bulk shopping, here's a quick rundown - and, if you're looking for where in your city might offer bulk tea, you can check for it here.
My cabinet is always full of (one could say, cluttered with) bulk teas decanted into various jars. I like to keep lots of different types on hand, because part of the ritual that makes drinking tea such a treat is, I think, choosing exactly the variety that suits your current mood. I mostly drink herbal teas, but the herbal varieties sold in bulk at my go-to groceries are fairly tame - I love a good, plain chamomile, but not every day - so I often bring back bulk teas as a travel souvenir, too.
Grow your own.
Being an herbal tea devotee has this benefit, too: often when I want tea I'll just pluck a few sprigs of mint from my beloved mint plant, pictured here. Obviously, this option is not so feasible for those who prefer caffeinated teas - green, black, or white - or other, specific types of tea, like rooibos. But, there are plenty of herbal tisanes that you can grow and blend yourself, or pick up as fresh bundles of herbs from the farmers' market in the summer. Try herbs like mint, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, rosehip, lemongrass, sage, or mix a few of these together into your ideal concoction. These work either fresh or dried, chopped or left on the stem.
Choose compostable packaging.
If you don't have bulk tea near you, Arbor Teas offers the best alternative that I know of. Trying to find fully recyclable, compostable packaged tea on grocery store shelves has been, for me, a losing proposition. Each brand of loose-leaf packaged tea that I've tested has had some form of non-recyclable plastic packaging; regardless of the beguiling cardboard or stainless steel canister it comes in, there's always a plastic sleeve inside to hold the tea. And, individually wrapped teabags are culprits too: the single-serve packages are typically plastic or plastic lined (even Traditional Medicinals, which appears to be just paper, has a thin film of plastic on the inside), and sometimes the actual tea bags aren't compostable either, especially the "silk" plastic mesh kind.
Arbor Teas, on the other hand, offers loose leaf teas whose packaging is entirely compostable in your backyard composter - no industrial composting needed. Their thoughtful packaging is as thin as they could make it (lighter weight means a lower transportation footprint, fewer resources needed in manufacturing, and quicker composting), and the paper labels are fully compostable, too. When the box appears at your door, you can recycle the cardboard and the invoice, decant the tea into your own container to keep it fresh for longer, and then pop the bag straight into your compost. Done. As close to zero waste as packaging can get, pretty much, and a great option for you tea lovers whose nearby bulk selection isn't cutting it.
Their tea comes in sample, regular, and bulk sizes, pictured above, so once you find a blend you love, you can size up to the bulk package to reduce the amount of packaging per serving. I tried their chamomile mint, masala chai rooibos, and ginger chili tisane - all fun twists on classic flavors, and all organic and often fair trade. You can read more about their sustainability creds - carbon offsets for their whole supply chain, solar powered offices, and industrial composting of any organic waste that's generated before it hits your door - here, and more about their compostable packaging here.
Any fellow tea devotees out there: how do you approach buying and brewing tea in a zero waste way? Do you have any other suggestions? I'd love to hear.
PS. More low-not-zero waste options for those without great bulk offerings near you can be found here, and even more coming at you later this week.
This post is in partnership with Arbor Teas. All opinions are my own - thank you for reading and for supporting Litterless.