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So, why did we start using plastics?

PG Tips has faced a barrage of complaints after frustrated drinkers complained that its new eco-friendly tea bags fall apart.

The company made the switch from a plastic to a paper seal at the end of 2018, following a petition signed by more than 200,000 people calling for an end to plastics from tea bags.

Unlike polypropylene, the new material is made from corn starch and is fully biodegradable.

Environmentalists welcomed the move as a positive step given Britain’s voracious appetite for tea, with the country drinking 165 million cups a day, according to data firm Statista – behind only Turkey and Ireland.

Yet many claim the seal is not as robust as the heat-resistant plastic one used previously, as tea bags can now break apart once infused in hot water.

Until we work out why we cannot decide upon why not, can we?

32 thoughts on “So, why did we start using plastics?”

  1. Obviously this stupid regulation should be abolished immediately. But it probably won’t be.

    As I just pointed out to an acquaintance, since I was a bureaucrat, I’m a firm believer in the maximum possible freedom.

    Of course you can suffer from your own stupidity. But that’s better than having to suffer from someone else’s.

  2. Allthegoodnamesaretaken


    As any fule kno the best tea is the loose leaf variety. It’s the sweepings which go in the teabags.

  3. The 5 million people of Ireland collectively drink more than 165 million cups of tea per day?

    I think they’ve mangled that statistic.

  4. Way I read it, it’s the 3 edge seals that hold the bag together, not the bag itself. So as a scientific endeavour, I just cut the 3 seals off of a PG Tips bag & weighed them. Or tried to. My electronic scales weigh down to 0.1g. So it’s less than that. I do still have my jeweller’s balance. But I don’t have any weights under 0.25g. Anyone remember the name of the seed gives one a metric for small weights?
    Over this we are exerting ourselves? As anyone who’s used plastics knows, unmodified polypropylenes are degradable. Too bloody degradable for most applications.

  5. Ingenuity triumphs! The 3 seals together do seem to weight the same as a Rizla paper. So just a matter of weighing a full packet of 50 papers & subtracting the weight of an empty packet, divide by 50. 0.0434g
    But, to be finicky, part of the seals I’ve cut off the bag have to be the bag material, don’t they?
    Let’s say half the weight. So 0.0217g

  6. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    Tea cups in Turkey are much smaller than the British variety, tho the tea itself often more heavily brewed. Comparing cups is about as useful as an American recipe, we pendants need volume per capita.

  7. Why did we start using plastics?

    Dunno.. Would have to ask our great^n-ancestors why they thought using keratin was such a great idea. Didn’t they think of Mother Gaia when they did that?!!

    And yes.. each of the major branches of life on this planet has developed their own extremely non-biodegradable plastic. For Reasons.

    Plants: Cellulose. Crustaceans (including all insects): Chitin. Vertebrates: Keratin.
    All three are extremely resistant to biodegradation.

    So… next time you encounter an Eco-freak in xer biocotton/linnen clothes munching on grasshopper legs from a recycled-paper tray expounding on the Badness of Plastics…

    Derisive laughter is the minimum allowed. Taking a skinning knife and proceeding to remove the last bits of plastic from xer life could be viewed as extreme, even though you are ultimately aiding xer in achieving xer ideals.

  8. Bloke in the Fourth Reich


    Surely you should be able to borrow a scale that weighs much smaller quantities. Friend of a friend must have one?

  9. My personal favourite of recent times was the Just Stop Oil protesters wearing Hi-Viz clothing.

    I do wonder if we are heading towards only being able to say, do or use things that Those in Charge approve of. Or are we there yet?

  10. Whatever they are made from, I’m glad tea bags are now usually compostable. They rot down really fast, especially when ripped open before being put in the composter.

  11. “Over this we are exerting ourselves?”

    Going back to your comment about fantasy literature elsewhere, you have to understand that the people who are into this, organic food, crystal healing, drum circles are mostly not very bright and basically still children. Women who have lots of family money, so don’t have to work. Or who hooked up with rich men because they’re pretty, and those men aren’t going to argue about this nonsense because they don’t want to sleep on the sofa. If someone keeps feeding you, paying off your credit card, you aren’t going to engage with the real physical world. Or are just losers.

    It always amazes me how companies succumb to petitions from relative small numbers of people. 200,000 sounds a lot, but I bet it’s something less than 1% of PG Tips customers. And a lot of those will just be people on a circulation list of green issues who just clicked something and entered their name. Probably don’t even drink PG Tips.

  12. How many of those 200,000 had any idea what they were signing? Plastic is a truly wonderous thing, which makes the desire to demonise it even more weird. Of course the really really weird bit is that the problem they are trying to solve is how we dispose of it. This only being a problem because of a zero-carbon policy of “recycling”, which in practice means dumping it at sea. Burning or landfill gets rid of that problem, but for some reason the sackcloth mob don’t like it, so we all give in and stop using plastic.

    Besides which tea bags are for plebs!

  13. @Grikath
    If you work with plastics, you know how quickly they degrade. It’s trying to find plastics that don’t.
    They’re a long chain molecule. Sometimes cross-linked. Mostly C+H with a few atoms of other elements shoved in where it improves their properties. The plastics get thrown away are mostly C+H+Cl. They’re very susceptible to UV for a start. But stuff in the environment soon gets working on them. There seems to be a hatefest on plastic cutlery at the moment. That stuff time expires in storage. The oxygen in the air starts breaking up the molecule chains. Very quickly they become too brittle to use. Bury them, let bacteria & soil chemicals go to work on them, the chains get cut up shorter & shorter until they’re back to the C+H(n) they were made out of. Chuck them in the sea, they float. UV rips them to shreds in months. You’re right, things like insect chitin, keratin are far less biodegradable. They’ll fossilise. You will never, if you live to be 5 million, dig up plastic fossil drinking straws. You’d be lucky to find the stuff after a couple of decades.

  14. If you want an explanation of that of that rather obscure comment. If you heat vegetable oil to frying temperatures is polymerises. Forms long chain molecules. A plastic. It’s the basis of oil paints. You brush the paint on a surface, the solvents dry out but not the paint. Paint’s cure by absorbing oxygen from the air. The molecules cross-link so the paint becomes a durable plastic. “Dryers” incorporated in commercial paints accelerate the curing process. But they are plastics. Early plastics were made this way. Similar C+H+x long chain molecules as synthetic petroleum oil based..

  15. Incidentally, when you read about bio-plastics, plant based plastics, that how they’re made. There’s little intrinsically different from petroleum based plastics. Just the feedstock’s different.

  16. BiS “Anyone remember the name of the seed gives one a metric for small weights?” Were you thinking of the carat? (Originally named for the carob seed, used to weigh gold dust for quills or some such.)

  17. We throw PG Tips tea bags onto our compost heap. The degree of difficulty they have caused to our gardening is … zero. Nil. Nowt.

    Mind you, I begin to wonder whether incorporating some suitable bits of plastic into the second spit of our intractable clay soil might not be a good idea.

  18. BiH
    That’d be the one. 1/144th of an ounce Troy or something. And I don’t have any in the larder, so that’s no help. I have a nice 2ct diamond. But I’m not taking it out of the setting to weigh tea bags.

  19. “The 5 million people of Ireland collectively drink more than 165 million cups of tea per day?”

    So that’s 33 cups per capita per day.

    Maybe Turkish cups are smaller, but that’s still a lot of time preparing and drinking the things. No wonder their GDP is so low.

    Now I don’t want to go to Ireland. I’m thinking I would be fitted at the airport with an intravenous system to ensure I do my part.

  20. There’s also grains, used to measure small weight.

    1 lb = 7000grains

    Or 1 grain = 2.2 milli-ounces = 0.065 grams

  21. CD

    Important to distibguish barley grains from wheat grains. And in either case the grains need to be taken from the middle of the ear.

  22. As any fule kno the best tea is the loose leaf variety. It’s the sweepings which go in the teabags.

    If the purpose is to consume a warm, milky sugar drink it doesn’t make many odds which you have.

  23. Inspired Chernyy !
    But at present I’m going on the Rizla metric. Standard green. Not the extra thin blue.
    Whatever it is a very tiny piece of plastic been getting Green knickers in a twist. I’ll bet they don’t have any problem with using nail varnish (or the acetone remover) But reasons, of course.

  24. I remember when they scrapped plastic straws and they interviewed someone from the factory that made the new cardboard or whatever ever ones for macdonalds and he admitted they weren’t that good and they hoped to improve them over time

  25. If the purpose is to consume a warm, milky sugar drink it doesn’t make many odds which you have.

    A splash of (full cream) milk is fine, but sugar? Only if you’re in the building trade.

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