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I have a problem during waste segregation with a small, but often used product, namely teabags.

It's a bit of organic matter wrapped in paper, with a thread and staple. The organic part is easy - it belongs in compost. Paper is a bit more difficult, but compost bags in Germany are made of paper anyway.

But what with thread? It should compost as well; it's organic matter, too. But the staple makes things problematic. Should I simply remove them and throw the rest into composting matter, or can I simply ignore it because it will corrode anyway?

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    I share your concern. We have so many choices for tea at my stores that I simply choose to only buy bags without staples, and with paper, not plastic, wrapping. Good question, though. – Nate Jul 25 '13 at 19:43
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    Is it really a problem to compost the staple as well? Is is a small bit of steel, which will take a while (a couple of decades, maybe) to rust and decompose, but the iron oxide given off doesn't sound very harmful. A staple-size bit of iron is much less of a problem than stones. That said, I usually buy loose tea and use a pot with a built-in sieve. – Earthliŋ Jul 26 '13 at 5:53
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    @Earthling, I would guess that it's not a big problem. The bigger reason I tend to avoid it is if you use the compost yourself (vs. sending it to a large city facility). I like to garden without gloves, and don't like the thought of running my hands through sharp, rusty metal objects. From a pollution or waste standpoint, I agree that it seems like a small impact. – Nate Jul 28 '13 at 0:54
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Interestingly, it appears that teabag paper commonly includes "food-grade" polypropylene, which doesn't readily decompose. The link contains a quote from Tetley, amongst others:

The material used to make the actual tea bag is a mixture of mainly cellulose fibres and a small amount of polypropylene fibres to give the heat seal. Under normal composting conditions the cellulose fibres will break down, as will the tea, leaving the very small polypropylene fibres which are normally so small they are not seen.

Learning the above isn't going to stop me composting teabags, but the brand of tea may make a difference as to the severity of the problem. I found this description of substantial frustration with the remaining fibres left after composting (please ignore the advice from the tea company to burn them instead! Burning plastic is a terrible idea). I would also draw the line at composting nylon teabags (I wouldn't buy them either), which thankfully doesn't appear to have caught on since this 2007 article discussing the concept was published.

I wouldn't worry too much about a few steel staples in my compost; I'm confident they will readily corrode and won't make any significant difference to the chemical composition of my garden, or my health (after eating the harvest). Iron oxides are already generally abundant in soil.

That leaves the paper tag and a piece of thread to consider. The paper tag, provided it's not coated with plastic, should be ok in small quantities.

If the thread is cotton, it will easily decompose. After a few careful web searches, I didn't manage to find evidence that anything else is used.

Wikipedia notes that corn starch ("Soilon") and silk are also used for tea bags, which don't appear to include polypropylene.

All that said, I can taste the difference between tea bag tea and loose leaf tea; the loose leaf tea tastes better, and is easy to handle with a one-serving strainer. Just don't gulp the dregs at the bottom of the cup!

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    And I'll go ahead and spell out the other benefits of loose leaf tea: - overall packaging efficiency - avoids staples and food-grade polypropylene altogether - all other things equal, cheaper on a per serving basis Excellent answer, Highly Irregular. – timhreha Aug 4 '13 at 18:57
  • At each step of the manufacturing process, undesirable flavors can be introduced or desirable ones removed. Great write-up and conclusion. – brasofilo Aug 17 '13 at 15:07
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    buying herbal "tea" infusions as loose leaf can be hard to impossible, unfortunately. The pure ones are usually doable, peppermint, chamomile etc, but I like the fruity ones too and those... DIY is very hard. So I have jars of some where I can find them, and teabags for the rest. Also, you need a really, really fine infuser for chamomile, the stamens are tiny. – Móż Oct 5 '16 at 23:24
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In my household, we tear off the staples before composting. Happily, many teabags are made without them, so you can also only buy from manufacturers that have eliminated that little item.

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