I’m a tea aficionado. I’m always looking for that perfect cup of tea and brewing method. It excites me, I love the flavor, and I am grateful for the healthy benefits I receive. But the reality behind tea isn’t so perfect.
As the tea market gains a foothold in the United States, farmers have had to monocrop this commodity on a larger and larger scale, which, as with anything, puts an intensive strain on the soil and surrounding environment. And that’s only part of the problem: with the demand for about 4 million tons of the product world-wide, the market has certainly boosted global shipping emissions.
Let’s see how tea interacts with the environment a bit more.
Tea and the Environment
Packaging varies with each brand, and some will just have a tin with loose leaf tea. (This is perhaps the best packaging to opt for.) Often, though, tea comes in individual packets (many of which are not recycable or biodegradable). Above anything, the problem with packaging is seen in the sheer mass of resources it requires. Shipping those packages, especially from places like Asia, also means more carbon emissions.
Despite both packaging and shipping tea from around the world being taxing on the environment, the bigger concern is clearing of land for tea orchards. A number of other issues come with the increase in land size, making growing tea production a serious problem. Not only are native species being driven from their homes, but with more area to cover, companies are spraying more pesticides and using more artificial fertilizer.
One notable difference with tea, though, is that many consider it a “sustainable crop.” That is, unlike other crops that require being ripped out of the ground and freshly planted, tea plants reside in the soil without need of yearly replacements. This is specifically due to the fact that one only harvests the leaves from the top of the plant, which can remain viable for years and years.
Nevertheless, the fact that tea is burdening the environment is understood among the growers.
Because of the issues, many are switching to organic growing of tea leaves where they forbid the use of synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Although the problem with monocropping remains, the soil, water, and air are treated much better comparatively speaking. Furthermore, the product is healthier for the consumer, meaning more reasons to love tea.
Reasons to Love Tea
Despite the environmental dilemmas that arise with tea, there are still reasons to love it. In addition to often being a “pure” beverage that requires little to no additives and processing, tea is also very healthy for people. Green tea is especially hailed as a healthy drink, being rich in antioxidants. Plus, with a little caffeine, green tea is great for that extra focus.
By and large, though, there are basic benefits that come with all styles and blends of tea:
- Very calming, which helps achieve mental balance
- You do not need to add other ingredients/sugars unless you want
- Simple and quick to make
- High polyphenol content in green tea (as well as some others) may help reduce the risk of cancer, though more research is required
The solution to the problem of growing tea starts with consumers demanding more sustainable growing methods. Organic is one option, but it should be complemented with an effort to develop strategies around monocropping. Fair labor practices are also a must, largely because much of the worlds’ tea is grown where standards are harsh. As individuals, we can also begin to drink less tea and conserve what we have. Unfortunately for me, that means not getting a cup everywhere I go just for the taste.
While I’m not a fan of that solution, sustainability has to begin somewhere. Perhaps I’ll start growing my own tea!