Co-op goes plastic free for own-brand teabags

In the latest example of business attempting to combat plastic pollution, the Co-op has become the first retailer to develop a fully-biodegradable paper tea bag - removing all uses of polypropylene plastic as a result.

The Co-op’s own-brand 99 tea will be developed without the use of polypropylene polymers, which are used to enable the teabag to hold its shape. The Co-op sells around 376 million teabags annually and has worked with tea suppliers Typhoo and sustainable fibre developers Ahlstrom-Munksjö to eliminate the use of plastic. It is believed the move could stop nine tonnes of plastic being sent to landfill annually.

Co-op Food’s chief executive Jo Whitfield said: “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.”

The new method uses heat sealing bags which eliminate the need for the widely-used plastic seal. The bio-degradable bags will undergo rigorous testing throughout the next month, and Co-op is hoping to commercialise them later this year. The intent is for the product to be rolled out across the Co-op’s entire own-labelled tea range. The retailer confirmed that the teabags will be fully compostable in food waste collections.

Plastic pledges

The Co-op already has a target in place to make 100% of its product packaging recyclable, with an interim target of 80% by 2020. The target also accounts for reducing hard-to-recycle plastics and using more recycled content “wherever possible”.

Co-op, which was also the first retailer to source 100% Fairtrade cocoa, has previously voiced its support for the introduction of a nationwide bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) to help reduce plastic pollution.

The move from Co-op follows numerous high-profile declarations from retailers and businesses to reduce the amount on plastic packaging in use. The likes of Costa, Cranswick, McDonalds and Waitrose have either reiterated or strengthened commitments to reducing plastic use in recent weeks.

Elsewhere, frozen food giant Iceland has committed to become the world’s first major retailer to remove plastic packaging from its own brand products by 2023.

French bottled water company Evian recently announced plans to produce bottles made from 100% recycled plastic by 2025. However, Coca-Cola’s global plan to address its plastics impact has been criticised by Greenpeace for failing to reduce the number of single-use plastics bottles it produces.

Matt Mace

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