(Photo credit: Claire Gunn)
Did you know that most regular tea bags contain PLASTIC? And can you even begin to imagine the impacts of this when dunked into boiling hot water?
Well, fear not. Lady Bonin’s Tea is a local company that changes the status quo. Based in South African, the company sources, blends, packages and distributes full leaf organic teas sourced entirely from small-scale farms, and have spared nothing to ensure an entirely plastic-free tea with uncompromising quality!
Ocean Pledge asked ‘the ‘Tea Lady’, Jessica Bonin, aka Lady Bonin, to share her journey and learnings into what it means to ensure the integrity and environmental responsibility throughout the supply chain. By sharing this interview, we hope to inspire companies who are facing the same challenges when it comes to their packaging needs.
Plastic-Free Tea Journey
Photo credit: Clair Gunn Photography
OceanPledge: What inspired your brand of tea?
Lady Bonin: When I set out to start a business I wanted it to be a passionate, ethical platform that facilitated change. I had worked in the film commercials industry observing so many of the imbalances of the world first hand. I decided if I started a business I would do it ethically from the ground up, on every level, in every brick. I would create a new model that could permeate outwards through educating consumers, being accountable to our resource bases and aligning values with profits. I later came to learn this model existed, it is called Impact Business. And Tea became the vessel for considering an ethical supply chain.
OceanPledge: Tell me a little more about the meaning of tea for you?
Lady Bonin: I had always experienced tea as a means of connection. Connection with the self, the other and the environment. Like anyone else I only knew of regular tea bags, and it was only while exploring different suppliers that I came to learn about full leaf tea. It was a cascade of flavour adventure I had never before experienced. There are many kinds of teas, but the ones we have chosen truly represent and celebrate the diversity of South African flora and its immense potential to heal.
OceanPledge: What about the fact that most regular tea bags have plastic – This comes as a shock. I had no idea?
It is a scary fact that up to 90% of consumers choose tea-bags. But if you are eco-conscious, and trying to cut down on single-use man-made materials tea bags would be one of those things to avoid. most people don’t even realise that most mass produced tea bags actually contain plastic – they use polypropylene, which is a plastic sealing agent that helps to keep the tea bag from falling apart. It is scientifically proven that heated plastic becomes carcinogenic. So imagine what happens when you put a plastic tea bag in boiling water?
OceanPledge: Why was it so important to you to get the packaging right?
Lady Bonin: While researching teas, farms and processing methods, I came to learn about the many unethical elements of tea from farming methods to labour relations and the hidden plastic in tea bags and packaging. I learned these things because I was looking for the potential imbalances that would compromise the ethos of my company. When I began 7 years ago I chose to use loose Leaf tea because tea bags had plastic and I refused to put a healthy plant into a poisonous and environmentally damaging substance.
OceanPledge: How did you go about it? what or who did you use in the end?
Lady Bonin: After 6 years of searching I finally found a supplier who made biodegradable, GMO-free corn-based tea bag material. I had always used paper-based packaging, again avoiding plastic wherever possible, but when it came time to scale for retail and distribution purposes, I was hard pressed to find something shelf ready that was sustainable.
OceanPledge: What about the foil- how did you get that right without plastic?
Lady Bonin: I delayed launching my product for 2 years because it took me that long to find a plastic alternative. This plastic-free alternative allowed the quality of the tea to remain intact through correct storage.
I realised the great difficulties manufacturers and processors have to provide ethical, eco-friendly products, the supply just isn’t there nor is it in high enough demand to warrant the insane minimum order quantities eco-friendly packaging demands. I contacted every single producer in the country and even looked internationally to find something viable. Eventually, I settled for a solid, recycled paper box. We managed to source a foil that was not plastic based.
Learnings on how to become a plastic-free company
OceanPledge: Any significant leanings?
Lady Bonin: Did you know that tea tastes really fantastic when mixed with gin too (she laughs). No, seriously, there are many options out there, you just have to inquire as to what the material is made of and learn all the acronyms to understand what they refer to. It’s all about due diligence.
We source from small-scale farms that go beyond organic into the biodiverse, sustainably wild grown and carbon neutral spheres because if we cannot protect our environment we have no future. I choose small-scale farms in order to support communities and families, paying them premium wages. Without the farmer, you have no product.
I choose eco-friendly packaging because I have to consider the impact of distributing my product has. Every step of the value chain needs to be considered. It has been a very difficult path, I have compromised my profits and it has taken me longer to grow, but I refuse to sacrifice these hard-earned ethics in the name of profitability. It just simply isn’t sustainable.
OceanPledge: What advice would you have for others out there who are struggling with their packaging difficulties?
Lady Bonin: I would advice other companies to think outside the box when it comes to packaging, there is a solution, even if it is timely to find. Simple is better. Persistence is key. Define a benchmark of ethics and never compromise. If minimum order quantities are a problem, structure a rollout that can benefit the manufacturer and yourself in line with your growth predictions. Collaborate with other companies who are also looking to do the same and together you can offset said Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ).
Educate your consumer so they can make better buying decisions.
OceanPledge: Wow! Not only have you considered every aspect of the supply chain, but your packaging looks really spectacular too. Anything else you want to share?
Lady Bonin: It is simple when the demand changes so do the supply. If everyone maintains a non-comprising stance, suppliers will have no choice but to shift supply. As much as we can hope to rely on the end consumer, they still need their product at the end of the day. If they can’t get it in eco-friendly means, that won’t necessarily stop them from purchasing. There is a huge opportunity for suppliers to change that landscape, and in time others will follow. Make a noise, don’t compromise and stay steady in your resolve!
For any information, or to order some of this delicious immune-boosting tea, go to: https://ladyboninstea.com/
Photo credit: Clair Gunn Photography