After my previous two reviews on tea companies, I have been trying to find sustainable tea products because my tea consumption as an avid tea drinker can definitely make a difference in my sustainable habits. I learned from my previous reviews that tea bags are not the most sustainable option, including those that are made from bioplastics like PLA. In fact, the Environmental Audit Committee states that tea bags are the major source for polluting our water systems due to their non-recyclable components. Switching to loose leaf tea products from tea bag products can reduce packaging materials which in turn minimise waste and pollution. So this week, I decided to review a green tea loose leaf product by NEMI Tea, a London-based tea company founded by Pranav Chopra. As a member of the Student Action for Refugees society, I was attracted to the fact that NEMI Tea gives employment to refugees in the UK. However, the greenwashing techniques that they use to mislead their audience into thinking their packagings are “plastic-free” has sadly decreased my ratings to an overall score of 1.8/3.
The green tea leaves are sourced from the Nilgiri district in Southern India. 125g of tea leaves are included in a colourful container tube. The container is made of card paper and it has a see-through window that is made from recycled plastic. They do not mention where their card paper comes from so I hope to see them disclose the proportion of recycled content they use for the card paper and aim for circular packaging by using 100% recycled content. NEMI Tea states that their container packaging can be “upcycled”, which means that the waste can be reused in a way to create a product of higher quality or value. I found this to be interesting because the products I have reviewed so far have mentioned the recyclability of their packaging but have not explicitly offered upcycling as an option. Unlike recycling, upcycling keeps the original waste material instead of breaking down the material so NEMI Tea wants consumers to reuse their tea container for different purposes. For example, they suggest transforming it into “a pen-stand, a convenient place to hold your tooth or paintbrushes, or even a hanging wall decoration”.
The tea leaves are packed in a biodegradable plastic bag made by NatureFlex. NatureFlex films offer plant-based compostable packaging and they are “fully certified to the American (ASTM D6400) and European (EN13432) norms for 100% compostable packaging”. Their plant-based plastics have been proven to be suitable for home composting. It is also surprisingly “marine degradable”, which presumably helps reduce marine pollution if they can be broken down before causing any harm to the marine environment. However, considering that the degradability in the ocean is known to be lower than that in compost or soil, I think that it will be a much more sustainable option to compost NatureFlex. I also think that it is dangerous to assume that it will be okay to throw away NatureFlex just because they claim to be “marine degradable”. Confusingly, NEMI Tea claims on their main home page that they have “plastic-free packaging” and cleverly avoids using the word “plastic” or “bioplastics” in their description of NatureFlex. This was shocking to me because on the page about their green tea, they clearly say that the packaging uses “biodegradable plastic” and “recycled plastic” for their container. It seems like they are using greenwashing techniques on their main home page to mislead potential customers into thinking they use plastic-free packaging when in fact they use bioplastics and recycled plastic, which are obviously still plastic! This led to a rating of 1.6 out of 3 in this section.
When they say “plastic-free”, they most likely mean that they are free from using new oil-based plastic. However, it is important to be clear that biodegradable plastics are still plastics and can still be a threat to the environment if they are not composted properly. So NEMI Teas must reconsider the language they use to describe their packaging because their tea bags and packaging are not “plastic-free”. After doing some research on other tea companies, I found out that it is normalised within the tea industry to use “plastic-free” labels while using bioplastics, even though it is advised to avoid this. However, NEMI Teas still made the choice of using misleading and greenwashing labels, just like Greenypeeps which I wrote about in my previous review. Considering that NEMI Tea says, “We strive for the continued development of the greenest tea packaging possible”, they must first be honest about the use of bioplastics and eliminate “plastic-free” labels.
Their products are certified by Fairtrade which I believe uses fairly robust criteria and standards for their certification. However, I was not able to obtain any information on how their green tea is sourced, other than the fact that they are sourced from the Nilgiri district in Southern India. Although they are Fairtrade certified, the lack of transparency regarding their suppliers is a major concern. I believe that they have the responsibility of disclosing information about their suppliers, such as their relationship with suppliers and actions they have taken to be Fairtrade certified. They also do not mention how they transport their product or the types of energy-intensive processes they go through to create their teas and packaging. I believe that they must be open and honest about these processes to give us an insight into their carbon footprints. Once they have identified their major sources of carbon emission, I hope to see them set goals to reduce their emissions. Regarding their packaging, NatureFlex films are based on cellulose which comes from wood pulp. This is typically sourced from hardwood species such as eucalyptus in responsibly-managed forests. Cellulose is a better alternative to oil-based plastic because it emits less greenhouse gas during the production process. NatureFlex also uses a minimum of 90% renewable raw material so there are fewer concerns regarding deforestation or food production displacement. I think that NEMI Tea’s choice of using NatureFlex is a sustainable option but the lack of transparency regarding supplier chains, industrial processes, and transportation has significantly reduced my rating in this section, leading to a score of 1.8/3.
What’s unique and great about Nemi Teas is that they provide training and employment to refugees to help them better integrate into the UK and to give them local work experience. Considering that finding jobs can be very challenging for refugees/asylum-seekers, I believe that it’s great that NEMI Teas is providing training and employment opportunities to them and helping rebuild their lives in a new country. NEMI Teas provide jobs for refugees across their entire supply chain, including working in a factory to blend and pack teas, running tea stalls and markets, as well as doing desktop research and social media posts. NEMI Teas also trains refugees to “improve their English and other vocational skills or build on existing qualifications” which enable them to gain confidence and independence. In some cases, NEMI TEAs also support refugees into employment that can sustain them and enable them to thrive. NEMI Teas says that they have employed 18 refugees with 12 having gone on to part-time or full-time jobs or joining education centres to further their studies. They say that the company would recruit refugees with no questions asked and provide local work experience with a work reference. NEMI Teas aims to place 500 refugees into employment by 2025. Despite their excellent social enterprise, I was quite disappointed to see NEMI Teas using greenwashing regarding their PLA packaging and showing a lack of transparency regarding their suppliers. As a company that claims to be a “sustainable tea company”, they must enhance transparency and honesty about their supply chains and packaging.