Sustainabili-tea: Unilever’s T2 Tea to achieve 100% sustainable packaging in Australia by 2021

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

90% of T2 Tea's packaging including teabags, retail bags, tea boxes are now recyclable, reusable or compostable ©T2 Tea
90% of T2 Tea's packaging including teabags, retail bags, tea boxes are now recyclable, reusable or compostable ©T2 Tea

Related tags: T2 Tea, Unilever, Australia, Sustainable packaging, sustainable ingredients

Australia's Unilever-owned tea brand, T2 Tea, is on track to achieve 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2021, including its sustainable teabags.

Its teabags as well as polybags, the inner transparent packaging that hold loose leaf tea, are made from plant-based sources. The polybags can fully break down within 12 weeks in home compost or water.

In an interview with FoodNavigator-Asia​, Derek Muirhead, managing director at T2 Tea said: “Our teabags and the string are made from polylactic acid (PLA) derived from corn-starch with a paper tag printed with vegetable ink, not oil-based inks. They are heat sealed, so they are glue and staple free too.​”

At present, 90% of its total packaging including teabags, retail bags and tea boxes are now recyclable, reusable or compostable.

Muirhead told us the firm was also transitioning its petroleum-based plastic pouches for its loose-leaf and teabag boxes to a certified home compostable materiel called NatureFlex. NatureFlex is a bioplastic derived from cellulose from responsibly managed forests.

This follows a recent switch for its retail bags, which are now made from uncoated paper without any plastic lamentation, making them 100% recyclable. Muirhead said this would divert over 100 tonnes of waste from landfill annually.

We go through approximately two million retail bags per year, meaning this change will divert over 250 tonnes of waste from landfill annually by 2021​.”

Australia has set several National Packaging Targets including the aim to ensure 100% of all packaging in the country can be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Compostable packaging

This prompted the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to recently publish new guideline to assist businesses with the labelling of compostable plastic packaging and address confusion over the terminology surrounding compostable plastics.

It said the term ‘100% compostable’ should be avoided, adding that any claims of packaging being compostable should always be paired with specific disposal information for consumers.

It was also recommended to avoid using ‘biodegradable’ and other similar claims.

The term is vague, because a biodegradable product may biodegrade in some environments and not in others in an unknown timeframe​. Natural soil and water environments are not controlled, and therefore the time for a material to biodegrade will vary greatly,

“‘Biodegradable’ is therefore best avoided as a term for plastic materials as it infers a general behaviour of the material and could mislead users to think that something will automatically biodegrade in a reasonable timeframe,

“All certified compostable plastics will biodegrade, and when mixed in compost contribute to soils, but not all biodegradable plastics will turn into compost​,” stated the guidelines.

In line with this, Muirhead told us: “It is recommended that these do not go into a conventional or home compost. In order to breakdown quickly these products need to be industrially or commercial composted with specific conditions like temperature, pressure, humidity, etc. So, it is best to check with your local council what sort of composting system they use and if they will accept these materials​.”

As technology improves and guidelines change it is important for us to effectively communicate to our customers how to correctly dispose of the packaging. This is why we were one of the early adopters of the Australasian Recycling Logo (ARL) scheme as launched by the APCO and Planet Ark​.”

Sustainable future

The firm is also aiming to derive 100% of its tea ingredients (teas, herbs, fruits, spices) from certified sustainable sources by 2021, with this year’s target set at 72%.

It will utilise different certification schemes including UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, Fair for Life and Organics certifications.

The firm was acquired by Unilever in 2015, and in 2018, began its sustainability journey.

We re-engineered our entire business, end-to-end looking for ways to reduce our impact on the planet hit some major sustainability milestones along the way, like achieving a carbon neutral status for our entire operation in 2018 and beyond​,” Muirhead said.

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