Following water, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, with some two billion people drinking tea every single morning. Unfortunately, the global tea business has its own fair share of sustainability problems. Given this reality, this article will explore the challenges the tea industry is facing regarding sustainability, as well as the steps relevant stakeholders are taking to address them.
Tea's Sustainability Problem
Like many other products, the mass production of tea is taking a toll on the environment in different ways. For one, the carcinogenic and plastic-based packaging of most tea brands contribute to the already dire problem of marine plastic pollution. If left unaddressed, this problem can threaten food safety and quality, human health, and coastal tourism. Aside from polluting our oceans, the tea industry has also been noted to rapidly degrade soil quality through the excessive use of herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
In addition to harming the environment, many tea manufacturers have also been found to subscribe to unfair labor practices. For instance, in many overseas tea fields, workers hardly earn anything for their backbreaking labor. To make matters even worse, certain studies have also found that forced labor is widely practiced in global tea and cocoa supply chains feeding the UK and European markets. All these issues comprise a global sustainability problem that the tea industry cannot afford to ignore — especially in light of tea’s cultural significance and the market movements of the larger beverage sector.
Rising coffee prices, for instance, have made people in Turkey turn to tea instead, consuming as much as 3.16 kg of tea per capita per year. People in the UK, meanwhile, are known to drink five or more cups of tea per day, according to a report on Gala Bingo. With tea drinking starting before the age of five for most Brits, the country is known to consume 1.94 kg of tea per capita annually. As the market continues to grow at a steady 4.47% CAGR to reach USD 22.67 billion (EUR 18.8 billion) by 2025, the industry must find ways to meet growing demand without sacrificing people and the planet.
Towards a Greener and More Ethical Industry
As the perilous effects of climate change continue to worsen by the day, the tea industry is finally realizing how environmental issues can present a range of negative impacts on tea production. To build resilience and combat the effects of climate change, multiple organizations are working closely with tea communities to help them access renewable energy, tackle deforestation, and reduce their reliance on fuel wood.
Global organizations like the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility are also working hand-in-hand to educate more people on sustainable tea production. The Ethical Tea Partnership, for instance, aims to reduce land degradation by helping farmers build tree nurseries and encouraging relevant industry and government leaders to adopt and support better farming practices. The project is also trying to forward sustainable tea by bringing together local government villages, tea farmers, estate firms, and other stakeholders to discuss and plan how tea plantations can be better managed.
As a consumer and tea lover, one of the things you can do to support the move towards a greener and more sustainable tea industry is by turning to loose-leaf tea. Unlike their bagged counterparts, loose-leaf tea involves as little waste and plastic contamination as possible. They can also be reused to make a second cup and be bought in bulk. If buying tea that is priced by weight isn’t an option for you, you can still support the rise of sustainable tea by choosing brands that don’t use plastic in their tea bags. Examples of such brands include Numi Organic Tea, Republic of Tea, Yorkshire Tea, Tielka, Pukka Herb Teas, and Clipper Tea.