Tea is one beverage that never goes out of style. As with any agricultural product, it can be grown in ways that are either environmentally destructive or highly sustainable. Fortunately, there are many eco-friendly tea products on the market which benefit tea drinkers as well as the environment.
eco-friendly tea is any type of tea that is grown, processed, packaged and distributed in ways that minimize or eliminate negative consequences to the environment.
In the age of chemical agriculture, tea production often involves using pesticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals. Truly eco-friendly tea should be certified organic or have some other form of third-party verification concerning the sustainability of the growing practices used to produce it. The tea should be an all-natural product, so brands that include artificial additives would not be considered eco-friendly.
The type of packaging, including tea boxes and containers, as well as tea bags, can be more or less environmentally friendly, depending on the materials that are used. Look for tea products that use recycled and biodegradable materials in their packaging. The tea bags themselves should be compostable.
The Benefits of eco-friendly Tea
The benefits of choosing eco-friendly tea are reaped in several ways:
- Locally in the region that the tea is grown
- Globally as a result of reduced carbon emissions
- Internally by ensuring that you put only safe, all-natural substances in your body
Like all organic farmers, organic tea farmers are held to the highest standards of sustainable agriculture. Growing tea without using synthetic chemicals protects the health of waterways and wildlife in the region where it is grown. Organic farmers rely on healthy topsoil to maintain the fertility of their soil, and they take great care to avoid agricultural run-off and erosion. These are major benefits for the environment.
Organic farming practices lead to greater biological diversity. This is especially important in tea-growing regions which are often located in developing countries where human activity causes rapid habitat loss and threatens some of the biodiversity 'hotspots' on the planet. In a review of 396 scientific studies on the affects of agriculture on biodiversity, organic farming was determined to be more beneficial to biodiversity than conventional farming methods in 327 out of 396 instances.
Organic certification doesn't necessarily mean a tea company takes steps to use sustainable packaging materials and environmentally friendly distribution methods, but any tea company that claims to be eco-friendly should make some effort to reduce the environmental impacts of these aspects of their operation. This may include:
- Using alternative energy sources for roasting, drying or refrigerating the tea
- Using environmentally friendly practices in their administrative offices
- Using energy-efficient vehicles for delivery
- Composting or recycling the waste products from their tea operation
There are many ways that eco-friendly tea companies reduce energy consumption, carbon emissions, waste and pollution throughout the supply chain, all of which help make the planet cleaner and greener. For example, Guayaki, a distributor of yerba mate teas, uses solar energy to power their distribution center. The most eco-friendly tea companies use sustainable technologies in their processing and distribution methods. Choices like these are part of a larger push toward planetary sustainability. One study concluded that switching to a renewable electricity supply would lead to significantly reduced levels of greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
Human Health and Well-Being
eco-friendly teas do not contain any substances that potentially cause health problems, and most types of tea have health benefits, especially if they are grown without the use of chemicals. However, some teas, especially bottled teas, have many non-natural additives that detract from those benefits. Additionally, non-organic teas may be laced with pesticide residues and have reduced nutritional values.
While eco-friendly tea supports the health of consumers, most eco-friendly tea companies also make efforts to support the well-being of the tea growers by using fair trade practices. This ensures that growers are getting fair wages and that farming communities in tea-producing regions around the world are not exploited by tea companies. Fair trade tea results in a 50 cent per kilogram premium that goes back to small-scale farmers and provides a better livelihood that insulates them from dips in the global tea market.
eco-friendly Tea and You
You can extend the benefits derived from purchasing and consuming eco-friendly tea if you continue making environmentally friendly choices after you bring some home, such as composting your tea bags instead of throwing them away. Think of it as one more component of living a healthy, green lifestyle.