Many of us enjoy a cup of hot tea. I especially like it on brisk fall and winter days. After you finish your cuppa, do you discard the used tea bag in the trash? I have. After all, what good is a used tea bag? Actually, it can do a lot for your garden.

They decompose

Tea bags will decompose in the soil or composter. The acid in the tea can speed up the decomposition process, allowing you to use the compost sooner.

In Britain, tea bags are made from Musa textilis, a relative of the banana plant. The bag itself breaks down, and the miniscule amount of plastic used to seal it disappears within six months.

banana plants and drying foliage
(raw banana leaf fiber; John Washington, CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons)

As companies evolve in order to compete for a larger market share, there is some disagreement about which brands contain plastic or non-domestic biodegradable materials. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation investigated several popular international tea companies. Among the most heavily contaminated at the time of the report were Lipton, Tetley, Twinning, Uncle Lee’s Legends of China, King Cole, and Signal. Is your favorite on the list? One of mine is. Most of these brands were found to contain higher levels of either plastic, insecticides, or other contaminants.

However, a number of tea brands have been certified plastic-free. Among them are Twinings, Numi Organic, Pukka, Sainsbury's, The Republic of Tea, Waitrose, Lipton's Quality Black, and my favorite, FGO Organic Earl Grey Black.

Buddha Tea is made in the USA, is organic, bleach-free and the packaging is made from recycled products. Here's their Immunity Blend with health promoting herbs.

buddha tea and box

(my photo)

Tea sachets

Many pyramidal bags are made from either non-biodegradable nylon or a GMO plant-based plastic, such as cornstarch, that will only break down in industrial food waste collection systems.

Tea sachets are filled with both whole and broken tea leaves. Broken leaves lose most of their essential oils, resulting in less flavor. The pyramid shape allows more room for the tea to expand and produces a more flavorful brew.

types of tea bags

They add nutrients to soil

Tea leaves contain tannic acid and other nutrients that will fertilize your garden naturally. The tea leaves decompose, releasing nutrients into the soil and creating a healthier growing environment. Additionally, burying tea bags in the garden or tossing them into your compost pile keeps more waste out of landfills.

If you use tea bags in your compost bin or pile, the acid in the tea can speed up the decomposition process in the bin, allowing you to use the compost sooner.

Numi tea is not only a great tea company, they are a certified B Corporation with products that are sustainable and Climate Neutral Certified.

composter in the garden
(my photo)

opened up tea bag

Tea repels pests and curious cats

Used tea bags and coffee grounds help keep bugs away from your veggies and flowers. Spread them around your garden to keep cats from making it their litter box. It works for indoor plants, too.

Grow a tea bag garden

It's possible to start a garden in a tray using only tea bags, seeds, paper towels, and water. Germinate the seeds in moist tea bags and plant them outside. I haven't tried this yet, but 6800 TikTokers have already given it a ♥ .

tea bags used as seed starters

They're safe for vermicomposting

Tea bags that are free of plastic can be buried directly in the garden or tossed into a composter. The contents will give the worm poo a big nutrient boost, making it much richer. If the used bags are not plastic-free, the spent tea leaves inside them can still be recycled. Empty the contents directly into your veggie garden or compost pile, and discard the bag in the trash.

worms in a worm bin
(photography taken by Christophe.Finot, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

They help retain soil moisture and impede weeds

Tea bags buried near veggie and flower roots will help them retain water and keep plants healthier. Buried tea bags also help slow the growth of weeds. What gardener doesn't need that?

gardener with a raised bed

Use them out of the garden too

Eliminate greasy, stuck-on food by soaking baking sheets, pans, and dishes overnight in a sink filled with hot water and used tea bags. You only need a few tea bags and a cup or two of hot water for a single item. A heavy load of dirty dishes requires approximately a dozen bags. Fill the sink with hot water, add the tea bags, and soak overnight, allowing the tannins to break down the grease.

Used tea bags make a good polish for wood floors and wood furniture. The tannins in black tea bring out the natural wood shine. Lightly rub a few used tea bags over your wood surfaces and buff with a cloth. Caution: to avoid damaging the wood, tea bags should be damp but not soaked.

Tea bags are very effective for removing sticky fingerprints on glass. For sparkling windows and mirrors, rub a damp tea bag over the surface and dry with a paper towel.

Cheers to tea! Or as the Japanese say, Ocha ni kanpai!

Japanese couple with tea cups
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