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Tea’s Carbon Footprint Explored
Have you ever wondered what effect tea has on the environment? This depends largely on the behavior of the tea drinker, according to tea technologist and longtime tea industry consultant Nigel Melican of Teacraft, Ltd., who recently conducted an in-depth study on the carbon footprint of tea.
Examining the carbon impact of tea from an Asian tea farm on the American teapot (and landfill), Melican sought to determine whether tea is an ecological “saint or sinner” when we measure its carbon footprint against a number of criteria. He found that several variables within the domain of the tea drinker alone have a large effect on the final outcome, and it seems worth sharing because we’re on this planet together.
“If the tea is prepared well, if we look at the supply chain properly, if we make some adjustments, we can actually make the tea carbon neutral,” Melican said. “Some tea in some countries we could have carbon negative. That’s quite something for a product that comes from where it was grown, ten thousand miles [away]consumers…” Melican said.
In his research, Melican discovered that the carbon footprint of tea (measured in grams of carbon dioxide per cup) can vary greatly from over 200g of CO2 per cup to -6g of CO2 per cup, depending on how the tea is grown, processed and transported. , packaged, cooked and disposed of. On average, the loose tea you drink in a teahouse has about 20g of CO2 per cup. As a point of reference, the carbon footprint of a cup of beer is 374g, a can of Coca Cola is 129g and a cup of cow’s milk about 225g. As such, loose tea is a much better choice for the environment than either of these.
But this is where the tea drinker comes in. First, the choice of tea by the tea drinker plays a huge role from the start. . Melican discovered that tea bag tea actually has ten times carbon footprint of loose tea (all other variables being equal). I’ll repeat it in reverse. She has loose tea one tenth carbon footprint of a tea bag. Choosing loose tea over a tea bag means that you (and the environment) won’t be burdened by the abundance of carbon-intensive packaging materials such as the nylon or paper tea bag and its string, the box and the plastic wrap around the box. That’s possibly the best loose-leaf tea PR I’ve ever found (although drinking loose-leaf tea speaks for itself).
Recycling or reusing tea (as well as its packaging) also improves its carbon footprint. Loose tea often comes in minimal, recyclable or reusable containers, and this benefits the planet simply because the packaging is often reused and not landfilled. The earth will also benefit from composting the tea instead of throwing it in the trash. If you don’t have a garden, offer your used tea leaves to friends and neighbors who do (they’ll thank you for it, and so will the earth).
The consumer can also reuse the tea leaves to improve their carbon footprint. Soaked tea leaves can be well used to fertilize houseplants or gardens, to clean the home or for skin care. A tea drinker can also reuse tea and tea leaves for cooking, cleaning, and to reduce odors in the home (leave loose tea in a bowl or cup to absorb odors in the room, just like baking soda).
How the tea drinker heats the water for the tea also has an effect. According to Melicano, “gas is the best because there is only one loss in the conversion by burning the fossil fuel to produce thermal energy to raise the temperature of the water in the kettle. With electricity, you get five separate losses: 1. converting fossil fuel to steam, 2. steam to electricity, 3. network losses along the wires (voltage drop), 4. transformer losses when stepping up and down, and 5. heating water in a kettle .”
Melican said when he embarked on a study to present at the 2009 World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, he had no idea what he would find. “I was very happy to find out that tea is actually holy. Melican said.
Finally, Mr. Melican would like to see mandatory carbon footprint labeling on all food products, a law being considered in England that consumers in the US and around the world can demand from their representatives. In the meantime, sip your loose leaf tea guilt-free and with abandon!
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