As a tea lover and enthusiast, I have been interested in finding sustainable alternatives after my previous review on Yorkshire Tea. While researching sustainable tea products online, I was drawn to Greenypeeps, which claimed to be the “world's first carbon negative tea”. Greenypeeps was established by Ed Green in the UK and became the first in the world to go certified carbon neutral back in 2010. Despite their impressive project investments to be carbon negative while supporting their supplier community, the misleading “plastic-free” claims on their website was shocking considering that the company uses PLA and cellulose packaging. The use of greenwashing claims made a significant influence on my ratings towards Greenypeeps, leading to a score of 1.8/3.
Greenypeeps’ English Breakfast teas are made from 100% organic and Fairtrade certified Ceylon black tea from the misty Uva mountains of eastern Sri Lanka. Their packaging consists of three parts; box, inner bag, and tea bags. Their box is made from recyclable cartons and only uses vegetable-based ink. Vegetable-based ink emits fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds) during its production compared to petrol-based ink, which makes vegetable inks generally better for the environment than their counterparts. Although their box is recyclable, it is important to note that many people do not recycle, which eliminates the benefits of the product’s recyclability. On their website, they do not mention how much recycled content they use for their box, so I hope that they will disclose this and aim to achieve circular packaging in the future by using 100% recycled materials. Their inner bag is made from clear biodegradable cellulose, which they claim to be home compostable and can be buried in gardens at home. However, biodegradable cellulose is still a type of bioplastic that can still end up in landfills or oceans and take a long time to break down if they are not disposed of properly. Greenypeeps’ English Breakfast teas use square tea bags, which are made from organic cotton and wood fibres. I was happy to find out that they do not contain any plastic or PLA in these tea bags, unlike many other tea companies such as Twinings, Tetley and Yorkshire Tea that use plastic-containing tea bags. This led to the rating of 2.3 out of 3 for this section.
However, Greenypeeps’ uses pyramid-shaped tea bags for other tea products, (e.g. Energising Tea, Revitalising Tea) which is made from PLA, a plant-based plastic. Although pyramid-shaped tea bags are not used for their English Breakfast tea, I would like to note that Greenypeeps use misleading claims to describe the sustainability of their pyramid-shaped tea bags. Surprisingly, they claim to be “100% plastic-free”, saying “you won’t find a scrap of plastic anywhere in our packaging”. They even explicitly say “PLA (plastic-free)”, although UK Plastics Pact advises against using “plastic-free” labels for PLA because plant-based plastics are still plastics. I believe that when they say “plastic-free”, they mean that they are free from oil-based plastic but that should not justify their “plastic-free” labels, even though PLA is generally more sustainable. Furthermore, Greenypeeps claim that all parts of their packaging are “recyclable or home compostable'', but PLA cannot be composted at home as home composts cannot reach temperatures that are high enough to break them down.
Greenypeeps’ misleading labels show a big contrast to my previous review on Yorkshire Tea, who were very honest and transparent about how PLA is not plastic-free and not home compostable. It made an impression on me that Greenypeeps is masking the limitations of PLA by using the wrong and misleading labels of “plastic-free” and “home compostable''. It is very ironic and hypocritical that they display their strong opposition against plastic on their website while using PLA for their tea bags and cellulose for their inner bag. It sounded to me like they are trying to appear to be more environmentally friendly than they really are using these greenwashing techniques. Again, the PLA-containing tea bags are not used in English Breakfast tea so this was not considered in the rating for this section, but it largely influenced the rating in the last section, under “Who makes it”.
Greenypeeps Tea buys tea from farmers in the Hiniduma region in southwest Sri Lanka. The farmers tend their crop of tea plants and fruit trees and handpick only the young leaves that are tender. Their products are certified by Fairtrade which I believe uses fairly robust criteria and standards for their certification. Once a week, the farmer will take their leaves to the Galaboda tea factory to be graded, sorted and dried. Greenypeeps’ tea masters make regular journeys to Galaboda to assess the tea and purchase quality tea batches in person. They do not mention where their tea masters are from but if they are relying on tea masters outside of Sri Lanka, I believe that training and hiring local tea masters will be a better option to reduce their carbon emission from travelling. They also do not mention how they transport their teas, which was a bit disappointing considering how much they emphasise being carbon negative. I believe that working on ways to minimise transport emissions will help us believe that they are trying to reduce their emissions, rather than solely relying on project investments to achieve their “carbon-negative” label.
Greenypeeps has measured and published the greenhouse gas cost of each type of their teas. The carbon cost of 20 packs of their English Breakfast tea is 1.39 kg of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). They claim that their carbon capture investment is equivalent to 4.00 kg of CO2e for 20 packs of tea, so it can be interpreted that buying 20 packs of English Breakfast tea from Greenypeeps contribute to removing 2.61 kg of CO2e from the atmosphere. Greenypeeps claims that they capture more than twice the greenhouse gas they produce through investments in sustainability projects. For example, Greenypeeps have helped set up the Hiniduma Project, which so far contributed to planting 80,000 trees in the Hiniduma region of Sri Lanka and the project aims to expand to up to 20,000ha. They also invested in offsetting projects like the construction of hydroelectric powers in the Hapugastenne tea estate, which delivers zero-emission, renewable energy to the national grid of Sri Lanka. The project places the equivalent of over 5,000 tonnes of oil being burnt every year.
Greenypeeps uses 3% of its sales to invest in local projects that support local communities and their environment. For example, Greenypeeps’ Hiniduma Project focuses on providing resources and infrastructure for local farmers to plant and care for new rainforest trees. Through this project, Greenypeeps help engages and train local communities, protect trees, and plant new trees. They have also been involved in helping the supplier community support themselves through programmes on growing sustainable crops and sustainably harvesting trees of medicinal value. On their website, they say that they hold a business philosophy of “Neutral is not enough. We must make a positive difference.” I found it interesting and impressive that they are making efforts to achieve a net positive difference to the environment because the products I have reviewed in the past, such as Volvic Water and Yorkshire Tea, seemed to put a lot of pride in their carbon neutrality. I wanted to give a score of 3 for their dedication towards going above carbon-neutrality but I was disappointed to find out that they use misleading claims about their packaging (as explained previously), which brought my ratings down to 1.6 out of 3. It is important for them to recognize that PLA is plastic and saying that the packaging is “plastic-free” and “home compostable” is a greenwashing claim.