​​Can You Compost Tea Bags? What You Need To Know

If you’re an avid gardener and tea enthusiast, you may assume that tea bags are made of biodegradable materials. Since compost consists of organic matter as well, you may wonder if it’s feasible to turn tea bags into compost.

You can compost tea bags, but only certain parts of them. The paper and the string that cover your tea bag are fully compostable. On the other hand, you cannot compost the adhesive used to clasp the bag and the staple. 

Let’s go into more detail about everything you need to know about composting tea bags — the benefits of composting tea bags, how you can compost your tea bags, how long it takes for tea bags to decompose, what kinds of tea bags can be used for composting, and other uses of tea bags in your garden other than composting. 

Reasons To Compost Your Tea Bag

There are three reasons why composting your tea bag is beneficial.

  • It’s a cost-effective way to grow your compost pile. Instead of buying additional compost materials, you can just toss your tea bag into your compost pile — provided it’s properly processed first, of course. I’ll go into how to do that later in this article.
  • It helps the environment. Not only do you not have to worry about disposing of perfectly functional tea bags, but you’re also doing your part to help Mother Nature by reusing those bags.  
  • It adds a nice fragrance to your compost. As all tea lovers know, tea smells great. And that smell often sticks to your tea bags. Considering that compost is often made of decomposing and smelly organic matter, you might as well make your compost a little easier on your olfactory organs. 

How Do You Properly Compost a Tea Bag?

You can properly compost a tea bag by removing the parts of the tea bag that cannot go through the composting process. Cut the seal off of the bag and remove the staple before adding it to your compost. This allows you to compost as much of the tea bag as possible.

It’s worth noting that tea bags aren’t the only seemingly unlikely material for compost. For example, you may want to read my article about composting paper with writing on it: Can Paper With Writing on It Be Composted?

To properly compost a tea bag, here are the steps to follow.

1. Remove the Staple

Most tea bags are held together with a staple, or feature a tag at the end of the string held by a staple. These staples tend to be smaller than the ones used for paper and thinner than the ones used for wood. Since staples are made of metal, the microorganisms responsible for creating compost material can’t break them down.

Although there’s ongoing research into creating biodegradable staples, the staples used in tea bags don’t fall under this category. Like most staples, tea bag staples are made of metal or steel and tend to be non-biodegradable.  

If your tea bag’s staple is on the tag at the end of the string, removing it should be straightforward enough since the paper is pretty thin. All you have to do is rip the staple from the paper or tear the paper and staple off of the string completely. Of course, if you want to preserve as much of the paper as possible, you need to be more careful.

If the staple is holding the bag together, removing it can be trickier. In this case, you need to use a staple remover to safely remove the staple from the bag.

2. Remove the Adhesive (if Your Tea Bag Has It)

Most tea bag manufacturers use a material called Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) to hold their bags together because it can withstand high temperatures. PET is resistant to the biodegradation process and can take centuries to break down. 

As a non-biodegradable material, PET will drastically slow down the composting process. Therefore, if your tea bag uses PET, you cannot compost the part of the bag that contains that adhesive. 

To remove the adhesive, all you have to do is cut away the top part of the tea bag that has the adhesive. Then, dispose of that section and compost the rest.

3. Put Your Tea Bag in the Compost Pile

After you’ve removed the staple and adhesive, your tea bag is pretty much ready to compost. Just toss it into your compost pile, and you should be good to go. Rest assured that natural decomposers like worms, bacteria, etc. will take care of the rest.

How Long Does It Take for Tea Bags To Decompose?

Not all compost material decomposes at the same rate. Even if you’ve removed the non-biodegradable materials from your tea bag, it won’t necessarily degrade as fast as, say, decaying leaves. So how much time does it take for tea bags to turn into compost?

It takes about three months for tea bags to decompose. That is because tea bags are not made of 100% organic material. Many manufacturers use nylon to create their tea bags, which takes longer to degrade than other compostable materials.

What Tea Bags Are Compostable?

Just as no two compost materials are the same, no two tea bags are the same. Some tea bags are more compostable than others. If you love tea and gardening, what brands or types of tea bags should you buy the next time you’re out shopping to replenish your tea supplies?

Tea bags that are compostable should be made mostly (if not entirely of) biodegradable materials. However, you should avoid teabags with polylactic acid (PLA). Although these can decompose, they are not necessarily suitable for composting. 

If you’re the brand-conscious sort, this article contains details on specific manufacturers that use biodegradable materials in their tea bags.

Other Uses for Tea Bags in Your Garden

Composting isn’t the only potential use for tea bags in your garden. If you have several tea bags left over after creating your compost pile, here’s what you can do with the rest.

Treat “Dead” Spots in Your Garden

You know those bare patches that show up in your grass once in a while? If your used tea bags are still moist, put a layer of these on those patches, then put another layer of grass seeds on top of them. Leave them like that for a while, and the “dead” spots should be gone in no time.

Keep Pests Away

Tea bags may be mostly safe for human consumption, but the same can’t be said for some other organisms. Fortunately, some of those other organisms happen to be pests, and you can use your old tea bags to keep them away. Just pour a little bit of water on the bags, place them around the parts of your plants most prone to pest attacks (e.g. the roots), and the resulting aroma should repel the likes of mice, insects, etc.   

Makeshift Pots

Granted, most tea bags are too small to accommodate fully grown plants. But if you have seedlings that you can’t find a place for, you can use your old tea bags to house them for the time being. Just make sure to transplant them once they’ve gotten too big for their baggy homes.

Nourish Acid-Loving Plants

As you know, different plants require different pH levels. If you have plants that thrive in areas with high acidity, placing moist tea bags around them can give them a little boost owing to the remaining acid in the bags. You can always try out this method on a few plants first before moving on to the entire batch to be safe. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, you can compost your tea bags. You’ll have to remove the non-compostable parts (namely the staple and adhesive), but otherwise, it’s a good way to facilitate your plant’s growth and help Mother Nature at the same time. If you can’t compost your tea bags, there are other ways to use them in your garden that will be equally beneficial to your plants.

You can read my other article on how to compost with and without a bin here: How to Compost With and Without a Bin (Ultimate Guide)

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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