April 25, 2019

Zero Waste Lifestyle with Tea

Pickers on an organic tea plantation in Sri Lanka, photo by Dennis Keller

This post was sparked by a few events. One, April is Earth Month so I've been thinking more about reducing my impact on the environment and nature. Two, I attended a film screening with a moderated panel that included Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers fame. Me and my family don't live a zero waste lifestyle but as Lauren encourages, zero waste living "doesn't happen overnight". I am inspired by her to start with one action and in my case, given the amount of tea I drink, it makes sense to reduce the footprint of my tea habit.

Here's what I've been doing and would like to do to achieve a zero waste lifestyle with tea:

COMPOST TEA LEAVES

I jumped right into composting as soon as my building launched its composting program. Actually, I used to compost in my old building by saving and freezing my scraps then depositing them at a collection site in Union Square. When that became inconvenient, I stopped composting. I'm so happy my current building provides a convenient way to compost food scraps. I compost all my tea leaves.

BRING YOUR OWN TEA or TEA DRINKING VESSEL

You don't need to purchase anything to do this. You probably have a mason jar or water bottle or a tea thermos in your cupboard. Make tea at home and bring it with you. For safety purposes, I would let the tea cool before adding it your container and traveling with it, unless you have a tea thermos that's designed to hold boiling hot liquids. If you don't want to make your own tea or travel with it, or you get a craving for a cup of tea at work or otherwise away from home, travel with your own cup. Again, this could be a mason jar. You might want to outfit it with a heatproof sleeve and a drinking lid. A small tea thermos works too. If you want to invest in a to-go coffee cup, I've heard good things about KeepCup (disclaimer: I gifted one to a family member).

If you do none of these at the every least, say no to plastic straws when you order drinks.

DRY GONGFU CHA

Of course tea requires water. How on earth would you infuse the leaves otherwise?! But I limit the amount of water I use for non-steeping purposes. When I rinse my dry leaves, I barely cover them with hot water. When I ceremonially clean and warm my teaware, again I use much less water than is used in a tradtional gongfu cha ceremony or session.

REUSE TEA TINS

I've been known to collect my prettier tea tins. Some of these tins are stored in a closet but some are actually repurposed in my home. I have also donated tins to a local nursery school to be used in a play kitchen. 

EARTH FRIENDLY TEA PACKAGING

Ask your tea purveyors to use non-plastic packaging. If they can use compostable materials -- and you practice composting -- or recyclable materials accepted by your community's recycling program, even better. Re-use whatever packaging you can.

PURCHASE TEA LOCALLY

Unless you live in a tea-producing region, your tea is not produced locally. Most of the tea I have in my cupboard was shipped to me. Even my local purchases were shipped to my local tea shops. However, a benefit of buying locally is the reduction in the number of times the tea is shipped. Another, you could provide ask your local tea shop to fill your re-useable container with their tea. Save your tea tins or other re-useable tea packaging.

EARTH FRIENDLY TEA PRODUCTION

This is a big one, and honestly, I don't know how to tackle it. If I am truly committed to a zero waste lifestyle with tea and with low-impact living in general, I need to think about the source of the food, drink, and other items that enter my life. I should commit to only drinking tea whose production from seed to leaf aligns with my environmental and social ethics. I should commit to asking tea companies that provide teas for review for sourcing provenance information. I should commit to asking tea shops in which I buy my teas for sourcing information. I should commit to refusing to accept or buy teas that don't come with information about how and who grew and produced them. This will probably mean I will drink less tea by amount and from different regions and producers.

I'd love to hear from you about your low-impact approach to tea drinking. Share your ideas for a zero waste lifestyle with tea in the comments.

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