Can You Compost Tea Bags?

Tea bags can contribute to waste accumulation in landfills. Can they be composted instead?

Many people start their days with a delicious cup of coffee or tea. While the quantity of waste may appear insignificant at first, it can add up over time, especially if you and your family consume many cups of tea per day.

Can tea bags be composted?

Most Tea Bags Are Compostable

The short answer: Yes, most tea bags are compostable. But be careful, because some aren’t.

Used tea leaves can hasten the decomposition of your pile. But the material of the tea bags might pose a problem.

The composition of tea bags can significantly impact how quickly they degrade and whether or not they compost at all. 

Tea Bag Composition

Tea bags are the little satchels or pouches constructed of permeable fabrics that hold tea leaves or herbs when you steep your teas.

Tea bags are constructed of a variety of materials. Many of them cannot easily be composted, and some are not even biodegradable. Further, a lot of companies use small amounts of plastic or metal staples to keep the tea bags closed. These will never decompose.

However, there are some excellent biodegradable options available. Once you understand what materials are used in tea bags and, more importantly, know how to verify what materials your tea bags are composed of, you can determine if they are suitable for your compost bin.

A box full of tea bags

Compostable vs. Not Compostable Tea Bags

Before you add your tea bags to your compost pile, make sure they are biodegradable.

Polypropylene makes up approximately one third of many tea bags. This is a non-biodegradable synthetic substance that closely resembles plastic.
These tea bags have a heat-sealed edge and may be slick to the touch. If your tea bags include these or other synthetic materials, they are not compostable and should be discarded.

Compostable tea bags include those made of paper, silk, cotton, hemp, plant fibers, or muslin. They contain no toxic chemicals or plastics that could contaminate the organic soil amendment you are working hard to achieve.

Which Materials Are Biodegradable?

Filter paper: Tea bags made from this material are mostly made of organic pulp, such as hemp, that is molded into the shape of the tea bag and may be composted completely after use.

Silk: While it is no longer as popular as it once was due to increased costs, silk is still used in tea bags and is a biodegradable material that is relatively easy to compost.

A closeup picture of a tea bag on a table

Consider How It Is Being Held Together

All tea bags must be sealed in some fashion to prevent the contents from spilling out while the tea steeps. Some of the methods used to hold the tea bag together are not biodegradable. 

  • Folding: Using no glues or chemicals, some bags are simply folded closed. These are obviously compostable.
  • Tying: Other tea bags have a cotton string tied around them to keep them closed. Cotton is an organic material, which means it may be composted.
  • Glues: Many popular tea bags include polypropylene and are sealed with glue. It is biodegradable, but composting takes far too long.
  • Metal clips or staples: Metal clips or staples are also common. They are not suitable for composting and need to be removed prior to composting the tea bags.

Making sure your used tea bags are safe to compost will make the process go faster and easier while also ensuring you obtain rich organic soil that is safe for you, your family, and of course your plants.

One tea bag with a label tag holder

How to Compost Used Tea Bags

Remove the loose tea leaves or biodegradable tea bag from the pot or cup after steeping and set it aside. Once it has cooled off, you can put it into your compost bin or a pail in your kitchen that holds your food waste before composting.

When you are ready, place the used tea leaves or biodegradable sachets in your backyard compost pile.

After adding them to the pile, mix it all up, so that the sachets are incorporated into the middle of the pile. 

How Long Do Tea Bags Take to Decompose?

Tea bags can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to decompose, depending on the nature of your soil, the seasonal temperature, and how deeply you bury them.

Water plays a critical part in the breakdown of all organic molecules. Therefore, the decomposition process starts the moment you steep your tea bag. Bacteria and fungi, as well as larger species, like worms, carry on the process in your compost pile, gradually deconstructing your tea bag into a mix of chemicals like carbon dioxide and solid matter you can add back to the ground.

Jeffrey Douglas
Jeffrey Douglas own a landscaping company and has been in the business for over 20 years. He loves all things related to lawns or gardens and believes that proper maintenance is the key to preventing problems in the first place.
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