Click on the arrow above to hear our interview with Nigel Melican on tea's carbon footprint.
Nigel Melican (R) and Bill Waddington of TeaSource at World Tea Expo 2009
The World Tea Expo, taking place this weekend in Las Vegas, is a fabulous place to meet leaders in the tea industry who set standards for tea as well as those who undertake in-depth research on the subject of tea. The World Tea Expo educational conference is hailed as the most comprehensive education on tea in the world, and its Core Conference Program & Skill Building Workshops are designed to provide a forum for tea experts to share their knowledge.
During one such program, I caught up with Nigel Melican, Managing Director of Teacraft Ltd, who is a scientist as well as a tea man. He has more than 20 year's experience improving the technology of tea manufacture in over 35 different tea countries and is a consultant to trade experts. Melican has recently undertaken extensive research on tea's carbon footprint, and in his final analysis, he has found that tea has the potential to be an environmental saint rather than sinner when we measure its carbon footprint by a number of criteria (listen to the podcast above for details). But several variables in the domain of the tea drinker herself have a great impact on the environment.
In his research, Melican discovered that the choices of consumers can determine the carbon footprint of the tea they drink. For example, teabag tea has ten times the carbon footprint of loose tea (all other variables being equal). The kind of fuel a tea drinker uses to heat water for tea also has an impact. Recycling or re-using your tea (as well as its packaging) also improves its carbon footprint. Used tealeaves can be put to good use to fertilize your houseplants or garden, to clean your home or for skincare. (Listen to Ito En's Rona Tison in my earlier interview with her on the uses of green tea). Re-use tea to cook, to clean, and to reduce odors in your home. Composting tea rather than tossing it in the trash will also benefit the earth. If you don't have a garden, offer your used tealeaves to friends and neighbors who do (they will thank you for it).
All in all, tea does pretty well against other beverages in terms of its carbon footprint, coming in at only 5% of the carbon footprint of bottled beer.
Mr. Melican would like to see mandatory carbon footprint labeling on all food products, a law which is being considered in England and which consumers in the U.S. and around the world can request of their representatives.
Be looking to Bon Teavant for more podcasts and in-depth interviews from the leaders of the tea industry, including Jane Pettigrew on rare teas and Yoon Hee Kim, Korean tea master on her art.