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Reducing plastic consumption at Northern Tea Merchants

We’re delighted to update you on the journey that Northern Tea Merchants is undertaking to increase its use of recycled packaging materials.

Recycling has become a much discussed topic here at Northern Tea Merchants (and indeed everywhere!) which has prompted us to look at how we can package our teas and coffees more sustainably without compromising on quality.

Quality has always been at the forefront of what we do with customers wanting our products to be packed in a way that keeps them fresh for 18 months. But the packaging we, and indeed the wider industry use to maintain long-term freshness is not environmentally friendly. The packaging involves the use of hydrocarbon based foils and laminates. These have come under immense scrutiny recently from the public in consumer nations such as ours, Europe and North America and demands are being placed on food producers around the world to make moves towards packing their foods in more environmentally responsible packaging.

After extensive research and product trials, we are getting closer to finding sustainable packaging solutions for our teas and coffees. Read on to discover more about James’ journey to discovering quality recyclable tea and coffee packaging:


Recyclable teabags

Teabag paper has been very much in the news in the UK, initially due to comments in a gardening magazine that related to the thin web of microplastic that is left when used teabags are placed in a composting bin. Huge public pressure is being placed on the UK tea trade in general to remove it from the packaging of our favourite beverage.

The science behind this is not straightforward and it has been some while after the initial outcry that usable products have started to appear in the teabag paper marketplace. Several large companies have been experimenting with various types of recyclable teabag paper for a while now and cleverly worded claims are already being made by some of the larger companies  as to the recyclability of their particular brand of teabags.

However, there have been problems. In their rush to be the first company to offer fully recyclable teabags, a couple of producers have come unstuck (quite literally) and have had problems with teabags splitting when immersed in hot water. You may have seen reports of this in the press. After lengthy discussions with our teabag paper manufacturer, we recently trialled our first roll of fully biodegradable teabag paper.

We made approximately 40,000 teabags from this roll and found that the new glue that has been applied to this teabag paper (in the form of Polylactic Acid which is derived from corn) causes residual build up on our heated rollers which in turn tears the seams of the teabags and causes potential splitting and bursting issues. We experimented with different temperatures and machine speeds but the build-up occurred even at the lowest temperature ranges we used.

About 30% of the resulting teabags produced looked like this, which we are not satisfied with and I am sure you would not be either.

We took this up with the manufacturer and were told that we weren’t the only ones to have suffered this problem and a new generation of teabag paper would be launched mid to late October. I immediately ordered a sample of the new paper to be delivered as soon as it becomes available and rest assured that as soon as it arrives it will be tested rigorously to ensure quality and the resulting teabags are fit for purpose. Watch this space!


Reducing plastic in coffee packaging

I received my first set of fully bio-degradable coffee packaging about a fortnight ago. Initial tests on these bags show that they provide a good seal, although the material is actually quite unappealing, doesn’t hold colour as well as the foil laminates we currently use and will also require different methods of sealing to that which we currently use. It is my intention to trial these recyclable options with our trade customers as a starting point after rigorous testing. Unfortunately, the cost of these bags is considerably more than their non-recyclable counterparts, with the implications of this meaning a price increase of approximately 40p per 250g bag of coffee.

I hope to see a growth in popularity in recyclable packaging and like everything as it becomes more popular the price will reduce and I look forward to updating you on our endeavours on this front as soon as there are further developments.

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