Green Your Pick-Me-Up: 5 Tea Tips
Earlier this week, we suggested some steps you can take toward a more eco-conscious cup of Joe. But we realize that coffee isn’t everyone’s go-to caffeinated beverage. In other words: we hear you, tea people, and today we’ll help you green your brew, too.
Buy loose-leaf tea: Opt for loose leaf tea over disposable tea bags, which use carbon-intensive packaging materials. Many tea bags also contain polypropylene mesh, which can take several years to degrade. Additionally, bagged tea is often machine processed, producing a larger carbon footprint than loose leaf tea, which tends to be hand-picked. If you do purchase tea bags, make sure they’re biodegradable and unbleached. Avoid bags with staples, strings, or tags.
Minimize your water footprint: Only pour enough water to fill your cup to avoid wasting energy boiling what you won’t drink anyway. If it’s safe, use local tap water to brew your tea.
Cold-brew your iced tea: With summer just around the corner, cool off with some cold-brew iced tea. It not only tastes sweeter and smoother than traditional hot-brewed iced tea, but it spares the energy needed to boil your water, relying mainly on an already-running appliance—your refrigerator.
To cold-brew your own iced tea, add about 1.5 times the amount of tea you'd normally use to a pitcher. Pour in cold water, add a lid, and let sit in the fridge for about 4-10 hours. White teas, green teas, and flat oolongs need less time to sit, while rolled oolongs require more time. Herbal infusions and black teas usually need to sit the full ten hours. Strain and enjoy.
Repurpose tea leaves: Most of us know to reuse tea leaves or tea bags for our next cup of tea, but their use extends beyond the kitchen. The high nitrogen content in tea leaves makes them the perfect plant food, which does double duty by helping repel insects and other pests. When transferring a plant to a pot, line the bottom of the pot with used tea bags before adding soil. The tea bags will help retain water and release nutrients into the potting medium.
Dried tea leaves also make fantastic deodorizers. Toss some in the litter box or dog house to remove pet odors. For all-over freshness, sprinkle and gently crush some dried leaves over your carpet. Wait about 10 minutes, then vacuum.
Choose eco-friendly labels: As you would with coffee, buy brands labeled “USDA organic” and “Fair Trade Certified.” To earn the USDA’s organic seal, farmers must not have used synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers for at least three years. Meanwhile, although fair trade certification primarily ensures that farmers are paid a just price for their crop, it also has environmental side effects. In return for providing good working conditions and fair wages, producers get paid more for their tea. As a result, famers need less land to support themselves and their families, leaving more land available for natural habitat.
Melissa Pandika is an editorial intern at Sierra and a graduate journalism student at Stanford University. Her interests include environmental health and justice, urban environmental issues, and conservation biology. She has a soft spot for cetaceans.