Exploring the carbon footprint of tea

Ever wonder what kind of impact tea has on the environment? That largely depends on the behavior of the tea drinker, according to tea technologist and tea industry consultant Nigel Melican of Teacraft, Ltd. who recently did an in-depth study on the carbon footprint of tea.

Investigating the carbon impact of tea from the Asian tea farm to the American teapot (and landfill), Melican sought to find out if tea is an environmental “saint or sinner” when we measure its carbon footprint against a number of criteria. . She found that several variables in the domain of the tea drinker herself have a huge impact on the bottom line, and it seems worth sharing as we are on this planet together.

“If the tea is well made, if we look at the supply chain correctly, if we make some adjustments, we can make the tea carbon neutral,” Melican said. “A little tea in some countries could become carbon negative. That is quite a lot for a product that goes from where it is grown, ten thousand miles [away], to the consumer … ”said Melican.

In her research, Melican found that the carbon footprint of tea (measured by the number of grams of carbon dioxide per cup) can vary greatly from more than 200 g of CO2 per cup to -6 g of CO2 per cup, depending on how the tea is grown, processed and shipped. , packaged, processed and discarded. On average, a bulk tea that you drink in a tea room has about 20g of CO2 per cup. As a point of reference, the carbon footprint of a mug of beer is 374g, a can of Coke is 129g, and a cup of cow’s milk is approximately 225g. As such, bulk tea is a much better option for the environment than either of these.

But this is where the tea drinker comes in. First, the selection of tea made by a tea consumer plays a huge role right from the start. . Melican discovered that tea bag tea does, in fact, have ten times the carbon footprint of bulk tea (all other variables are equal). I’ll repeat it backwards. Loose tea has one tenth the carbon footprint of tea bags. Selecting a bulk tea instead of a tea bag means that you (and the environment) are not compromised with a number of high carbon packaging materials, such as the nylon or paper tea bag and its string, the box and the plastic wrap around the box. This is perhaps the best PR for bulk tea that I have come across (although drinking bulk tea speaks for itself).

Recycling or reusing tea (as well as its packaging) also improves your carbon footprint. Loose tea often comes in minimal, recyclable or reusable containers, and this benefits the planet simply because the packaging is often reused and not disposed of in a landfill. Composting tea instead of throwing it away will also benefit the earth. If you don’t have a garden, offer your used tea leaves to friends and neighbors who do (they will thank you and the land too).

In addition, the consumer can reuse the tea leaves, improving their carbon footprint. The steeped tea leaves can be used to fertilize houseplants or gardens, to clean the house or for skin care. A tea drinker can also reuse tea and tea leaves to cook, clean, and reduce odors around the home (leave loose tea in a bowl or cup to absorb odors in a room, much like baking soda ).

The way a tea drinker heats the water to make tea also plays a role. According to Melican, “Gas is better, as there is only one conversion loss when burning the fossil fuel to produce thermal energy to raise the temperature of the water in the kettle. With electricity, you get five different losses: 1. Convert the fuel fossil into steam, 2. steam into electricity, 3. network losses along the cables (voltage drop), 4. transformer losses as the voltage rises and falls, and 5. by heating the water in The kettle “.

Melican said that when he set out to do the study for presentation at the 2009 World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, he had no idea what he would find. “I was very happy to discover that tea is indeed a saint.” Melican said.

Finally, Mr. Melican would like to see mandatory carbon footprint labeling on all food products, a law that is being considered in England and that consumers in the US and around the world can apply to their representatives. . In the meantime, take a sip of loose tea without feeling guilty and with abandon!