Meet New Japanese Environmentally-friendly Tea Bag Invention – Soilon
Tea is great for so many reasons. One of these reasons is that it’s established a unique culture to mastering the benefits and uses of tea. In following with this line of thought, let’s try to better understand nonwoven fabric tea bags and its use in your garden and/or organic waste disposal.
What exactly are we talking about here? Tea bags, as you probably have witnessed, come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and makes. One of these makes is called “nonwoven fabric”. Nonwoven fabrics are “sheet or web structures bonded together by entangling fiber or filaments (and by perforating films) mechanically, thermally, or chemically.” (1) What exactly does that mean? Basically, they are flat sheets of thin cloth-like material that allow for certain elements to pass through them and created from either separate fibers or plastic.
Let’s return to our original question, can I throw my nonwoven fabric tea bag into my garden and/or organic waste disposal? The answer is yes and no. As noted above, some nonwoven fabrics are created from plastic. Some tea bags have a partial composition of polypropylene, a common yet questionable plastic that quite frankly is not designed to decompose anytime soon. Also, as with other products that contain plastic, where does the plastic go?
In 2019, McGill University Professor Nathalie Tufenkji purchased tea at a local Montreal coffee shop. Her tea bag looked plastic and she immediately questioned the amount of plastic being broken down in her drink (2). She returned to the lab where her team reviewed the amount of plastic released from a plastic tea bag. Her study found that, "[t]he levels of nylon and polyethylene terephthalate particles released from the teabag packaging are several orders of magnitude higher than plastic loads previously reported in other foods." Further, that the amount of microplastics released numbered 11.6 billion and the number of nanoplastics (plastics smaller than microplastics) was 3.1 billion (3).
Let’s take a moment to further inquire about what makes “Soilon nonwoven fabric” different from the teabags discussed: Soilon is a trademark name registered by Yamanaka Industry Company, a Japanese industrial company. The idea behind soilon was to further the idea of sustainability in tea bags. Using plant starch as a base, soilon nonwoven fabrics have the sustainable consumer in mind and include a number of important considerations: "Upon burying SOILON in the ground, following hydrolysis, the matter is completely broken down by microorganisms, after which it is eventually turned into water and CO2.” Further, when burned, Soilon does not emit harmful gases such as dioxin and has fewer emissions than plastics generally (4).
Tea bags created from Soilon nonwoven fabric however can be broken down by microorganisms found in your garden or compost. If you’re unsure, you can always drop your tea bag into the soil and come back a few weeks later to see if the tea bag has broken down or not.
The general idea is that Soilon nonwoven fabric is not only aimed at consumers who are looking to throw their tea bags in the garden or in their organic waste bin, but it is made for it.
We know that given our love for tea, it’s easy to question a better use for the left-over tea. Luckily, the appropriate tea bag leaves tea drinkers with a serious supply for our compost or organic waste endeavors. Tea compost is already a safe bed for the health of many of your plants given its organic nature, it’s simply a matter of making sure the proper tea bag is thrown in there.