Teabags And The Art Of Saving The Planet

What can we learn from the humble teabag? I’m on a mission to play my part in saving the planet ...

As the creators of the mess, we also have the skills and ingenuity to sort it out. What we’ve lacked is the will, and that applied to me too. However, for me and many others, the pressure has been building, we just needed something to tip us over the top.

Here’s my list of things that I cried about in outrage for a whole 24-hours, but then buried and carried on as normal:

All these people in other parts of the world are ruining it, not me of course as I do my bit.

I use recycled paper whenever possible and sort my rubbish into the various bins, and I’m currently investigating changing my car to electric. My tipping point came a short while ago I learnt about the plastic that holds together the tea bags I use and how this plastic breaks down into tiny microscopic nodules.

"Sure, it’s ok" I thought, "it’s safe to drink", but the plastic degrades not in the cup, but in the water or soil where it is thrown after use and the microparticles get into the food chain. So this was me polluting the planet just by making a cup of tea, and I didn’t even know it!

I didn't know which rubbish sack to put the tea bag in, but it certainly shouldn’t go in the compost. So it ends up in general rubbish for landfill which means I’m still polluting. So the simple solution is to stop using tea bags and revert to loose tea.

"Ahh, that was easy! Um, no ... it wasn’t!

Now I’m English, and my morning cuppa is a ritual, as is the countless cuppas I drink throughout the day. How much of a ritual? I didn’t realise until we switched. It just didn’t feel right. My hands knew what to do; I didn’t have to think about it. Kettle on, open drawer, hand in open tea caddy extract tea bag, place in a mug. Kettle boils, pour water into the cup, half a dozen prods with the teaspoon, take out the teabag (not squeezing unless it’s for my husband's cup), dispose of the teabag in the compost caddy. Add milk and sugar, sit with mug cupped in both hands and start my day. All done without thinking.

The new regime in the morning is now: empty teapot from last nights tea, clean out tea leaves and put in compost caddy. Oh, should have filled kettle and got the water boiling! Err ... do it now. Err ... forget how many teaspoons of tea for the pot. Oh no! I should have warmed the pot first. How long should I let it brew? Sigh, that’ll do. I’m having to think about this. My body is making all the wrong movements. By the time I sit down with my cuppa I’m feeling a bit frazzled.

"Sad but true ... I’m annoyed that I have to make this change to my routine!

I look around the kitchen and grumble to myself, "How many other things in this house are full of plastic, or waste energy, or a hundred other polluting things?" I think about my work and how I help my clients introduce change into their companies. Well, none of us like changes that are imposed by others, do we? We don’t even like changes we choose for ourself if it interferes with our funny little rituals.

Actually, when I sit (more than a little disgruntled) with my early morning cuppa poured after two minutes brewing in the pot (isn’t two minutes a long time when you’re watching the hand go around the kitchen clock face?), I notice that we especially don’t like change that interferes with our funny little rituals.

Well, my story as two endings ... firstly the happy one. I sit and take the first sip of my new style of tea making, and it’s a revelation. My goodness! What a wonderful cup of tea. Just like my mother used to make, I’m transported back to Sunday mornings on my parent's bed. How wonderful. What have I been missing?

The other ending is just annoying! I was so busy buying teapots and strainers and learning my new ritual and enjoying the trip down memory lane that I never noticed it until today. The loose tea I was so proud of sits nestled in its cardboard box all wrapped up safe from the elements ... in its own plastic bag! All efforts to find out whether this bag is recyclable have defeated me. So into the landfill it goes. Ah well, at least the tea has improved!

"My lesson from all of this is to take on change with care!

Engage everyone who is affected by the change and accept that some of the resistance is inevitable. You’re treading on the deeply personal here. Allow people the time and space to find, and bed in, their new personal rituals. Make sure there is a reward that is meaningful to the people involved. Saving the planet just won’t do!

And here's the big one. Going green is harder than you think. It requires a whole systemised approach to ensure you’ve covered all the angles. Carefully decide what your outcome is to be. In my case, is it to have plastic-free teabags or plastic-free products overall? I suspect that the green change team had a remit to look at teabags and never looked at the loose leaf tea packaging at all.

Get someone from outside the programme to audit the whole process and outcomes, both expected and unexpected. They are more likely to notice the bit you’ve missed that could make the whole exercise unravel. What a waste!

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