The ethics of Tetley Tea Bags

The circles that make round tea-bags cannot tesselate, and therefore the cutting of the bags must create some waste, where a square tea-bag would not.

a packet of teabagsEthical consumerism begins at home, and what could be more homely than a nice cup of tea? If we are to hold governments and big buisness to government, It’s important we question those every day things too. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of hypocrites.

Dear Sir/Madam,

In a moment of idleness as I waited for my cup of Tetley tea to perculate, I pondered the shape of your tea bags. If my memory serves me correctly, Tetley pioneered the round tea-bag, with a memorable animated advert based on a Beach Boys classic “I Get Around”. However, it occurred to me that circles cannot tesselate, and therefore the cutting of the bags must create some waste, where a square tea-bag would not.

While considering waste, I noticed that a whole new “50% extra” packet of 40 tea-bags was taped to the standard 80 tea-bag packet, rather than a new packet that would have used less packaging. Finally, I noted on the packet that Tetley tea is grown in India, Sri Lanka and Africa, but no ‘fair trade’ or environmental sysmbols are present on the pack.

By the time my tea was brewed, I had compiled a list of several questions for your team:

  1. How much paper waste is produced by Tetley in the manufacture of round tea-bags?
  2. Do you have a recycling policy?
  3. Do you have a strategy for reducing waste in your packaging? Do you think the excess packaging caused by your 50% offers are appropriate?
  4. What is your ethical policy towards growers in India, Sri Lanka and Africa? How do the wages they earn, and the prices they are paid for their tea, compare to the UK retail price?
  5. As an obvious market leader, why do you not have any Fair Trade or environmental accreditations?

I would be very grateful if you could provide answers to these questions. Your product is of a very high standard, but I believe your brand could be enhanced further by addressing the issues raised above.

Yours sincerley, etcetera.

I hope they reply. I should point out that Tetley do produce an organic range of tea-bags, but the method of growing is not relevant to the environmental impact of the packaging, nor to the way a company treats its employees and suppliers in developing countries.

PG Tips will be getting a letter soon too, but I don’t really trust those monkeys not to eat it or something.

10 thoughts on “The ethics of Tetley Tea Bags”

  1. Pyramid shaped bags are also available which I would have thought would again take more energy and resources for not much of a significant return.

  2. I’m not sure you know, the pyramids perculate so well

    And we haven’t even begun to talk about Green Teas yet. This is clearly a major research project.

  3. Well let’s get real and dispense with the tea “bag” all together – back to basics and tea-leaves, I need to know what my future holds after all

  4. I think Tetley is owned by an Indian company. If yes, that means:
    1) They definitely won’t reply to your letter and in all honestly will view your letter with mild alarm.
    2) They will have reduced the wages of their employees since they took the company over. Indians are best at screwing over Indians 🙂

  5. This is another facet to the whole ‘ethical consumer’ concept, brought to the fore by the Make Poverty History campaigns earlier this year. If the inequalities are introduced in the country of production, not implemented by some multi-national company, then the accusation that we are screwing the workers doesn’t ring true.

    At what point in the chain does someone take responsibility for these inequalities? Is it the consumer, the companies and their ‘corporate social responsibility’, or governments?

  6. That is true, but you could buy from a multi-national that prefers to employ people with better wages, or gives its workers better conditions.

    We have vertical companies now – going from producing the product all the way to retail. So if we buy fairtrade tea, the assumption is they don’t screw their workers at least, even if Tetley do.

  7. We could buy only FairTrade tea, but then we would be like vegetarians: A minority who might have a clearer conscience but the phenomenon we object to would still continue. I think the only consistent position is to buy FairTrade tea but also to pursue and put pressure on the non-fair trade brands, whose lower prices and market dominance will likely secure the loyalty of the majority of buyers who might be a) disinterested in such issues and/or b) rather poor and can’t afford to pay for Fair Trade.

  8. Hi Robert, very nice to notice your article. Our company has been around some 20 years and sells mainly recycled produce within the pet industry. We are currently packaging a small amount of the tea bag waste that you are talking about, but i am genuinely needing to source another 100 tonnes per week plus. If you have any leads i would be vey grateful if you would forward them. Regards Paul

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