Pioneering Sustainable Sourcing and Packaging in the Tea Industry

Pioneering Sustainable Sourcing and Packaging in the Tea Industry

By Markus Zbinden, Co-founder & Co-Owner, CEO, AVANTCHA Tea

In recent years, the world has seen a notable rise in the conversations surrounding sustainability and eco-conscious practices, driven by increasing concerns about the environmental impact from our human activities.

With a global value of US$112 billion in 2022, the tea industry stands at the forefront of these practices, addressing issues such as mono agriculture, pesticide use, and fair wages, the industry is ripe with opportunities for sustainable transformation.

The journey to sustainability in tea production begins with a fundamental shift toward organic practices with many tea farmers across the world increasingly adopting certified organic methods, a commitment that requires both time and dedication.

This can be credited to the shared aspiration for fair prices and a departure from the pressures of the conventional market.

While this is still a small part of the tea industry, the organic tea market is said to have grown to US$930.4 million in 2020, with projections showing an upward trajectory, a clear sign that more people want sustainable and healthy options.

A major challenge we find is the lack of a clear roadmap to success in organic tea farming, which many aspiring tea producers face. The solution lies in creating cooperatives and communities of organic tea farmers, where individuals can collectively exchange best practices, identify challenges, and capitalise on market opportunities.

Drawing from our approach to sustainable tea production, which encapsulates the new era of responsible sourcing, we have been able to focus on organic and non-mass-produced teas, ensuring fair compensation for farmers, which is reflected in premium prices for consumers.

Such practices, which are free from the usual price pressures, enable a deeper focus on the entire process of tea cultivation, from growth to harvest. We are known for our dedication to nurturing meaningful relationships within the industry, empowering farmers to set fair prices, and ensuring their skills and labour are valued.

Consequently, some teas are produced in limited batches, emphasising our commitment to exceptional quality and sustainable practices.

The dedication to detail and quality in tea farming enhances the overall tea experience, distinguishing organic teas from their mass-produced counterparts.

Furthermore, in regions like India, tea producers have begun implementing blockchain technology to trace the source of tea leaves, enhancing transparency and accountability in the farm-to-table journey. This innovation allows the industry to verify sustainability claims and assure consumers of their support for sustainable tea sources and businesses.

A commitment to reducing plastic and investing in environmentally friendly packaging materials is also essential. We use biodegradable tea bags to ensure that consumers can dispose of their teabags in an environmentally safe manner.

We have reduced non-biodegradable materials in our teabag envelopes and loose-leaf pouches by using layers of biodegradable polyethene terephthalate (PET) in packaging. For the environmentally-conscious tea enthusiast, this means an enjoyable consumer experience when purchasing and storing tea, even if it requires a higher investment.

Whilst the challenge of greenwashing persists in organic farming, it is also prevalent in various industries, such as food, hospitality, and banking, that claim to be sustainable due to societal pressure. To identify genuine organic products, you need to look for labels on the packaging from trusted certification bodies, such as European or Japanese organic certification logos.

These labels indicate that the products have proof of traceability all the way back to producers, and are backed by substantial testing, on-site visits, and routine audits to ensure genuinely sustainable consumption. In certain instances, some products may come with no labelling, which makes determining whether they’re organic even more challenging.

However, reliable brands strive to provide supporting evidence, such as laboratory test reports, in order to maintain trust and transparency with consumers. Alongside such, consumer education and access to information is of utmost priority. We continue to empower our customers with research-based information and the knowledge needed to make informed choices about the products they purchase and encourage them to continue to ask questions about ingredients, sustainable practices, and ethical standards.

The role of consumers in transforming the tea industry is paramount. As long as consumer preferences and demands remain unaltered by sustainability awareness, the likelihood of widespread industry change remains slim.

Consumers can shape the industry’s future by signalling their preferences for more sustainable options through their purchasing habits and support for cruelty-free and climate-friendly products.

When people consciously decide to change their behaviours and lifestyles, the industry is compelled to adapt its production and packaging methods to meet these new standards.

Tea, intertwined with the tradition of creating meaningful relationships and communities, offers more than just a beverage; it represents a catalyst for sustainable change.

Each cup of sustainably sourced tea is a step towards a more sustainable future, encouraging both producers and consumers to effect change in their communities and beyond. As we continue this journey, each cup of tea is not just a moment of enjoyment but a symbol of commitment to a sustainable legacy for future generations.

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