We often hear about sustainability but what does it mean in the tea industry?
Think about the times when human civilization just started. There was no pollution, no industrial wastage, no construction and no environmental exploitation. Plants, trees and animals used the natural resources of their surroundings to meet their needs only, yet never take more than what is required for their survival. Even nature has its own cycle like fallen leaves, decaying plants or even animal droppings. They are all recycled back into the environment to enhance and perpetuate future life. But then humans needed development to make life easy and effortless. Slowly our behavior started to threaten the environment, including rapid population growth, depletion of natural resources and pollution. If we want natural resources to be available for future generations, we need to practice environmental sustainability.
What is Sustainability?
Sustainability means being capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment. In simple words, we have to get into responsible interaction with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources.
First of all, sustainability is not impactful only when practiced on large scale. We can start our contribution from smallest of things like using less plastic in our daily life. Most of the things we use in our daily household are made of plastic, which is the biggest enemy of environment.
Sustainability practices in Tea
Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second after water. It is a drink which gives you a kick to start your morning and relaxes you after a long hectic day.
Tea comesfrom the Camellia sinensis plant. The variation in tea appearance, taste and scent depends on the way the leaves are processed.
As a start, leaves are usually picked by hand because of its fragility. Once picked, they begin to darken in color as they lose their excess water. Exposure to heat halts this process. The point at which manufacturers introduce heat determines the tea leaf’s variety: Green, black or white. Tea productions started with small sustainable gardening methods but now as consumption of tea is going up, tea production is becoming more of an industrial practice.
Still there are some countries like Sri Lanka where tea farming flourishes and products remain natural and sustainable.
GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms):
On another note, the boom in the agriculture industry was possible thanks to genetically modified crops. GMOs are linked to a number of negative environmental effects — and when an unnecessary process is harmful to the environment, that generally makes it unsustainable. So next time you go to buy tea, make sure you buy natural and GMO free products. This will be your small contribution to encourage sustainable techniques.
Tea and people:
Thirdly, more than 13 million people work in the tea industry worldwide. Most of them work for large tea companies on plantations. Big tea companies tend to prioritize monetary profit over sustainable environmental practices. Excess water use, poor soil conditions and destructive pest management are major environmental issues in the industry. Some small tea companies prioritize sustainability over the profits. That includes taking their tea supplies from small farmers encouraging them to harvest crops which are pest free and they grow the tea using minimal resources in fair work conditions and use environmentally sound farming methods.
This is a remarkable trend in Ceylon tea, mostly grown by small farmers using least possible resources.
Packaging is the most sensitive factor in the tea industry as selling capacity majorly depends on packaging and appearance as well. To make packaging costs less or to make appearance delightful to eyes, some tea companies make highly creative yet unsustainable packaging.
But a lot of companies take an opposite direction. They implement more sustainable practices like recycling or removing plastic completely.
As a conclusion, the tea industry sees many stages where sustainability could be ignored, but the consumer plays a part in looking out for them. It’s a responsibility of tea companies to follow sustainable practices from manufacturing natural teas using environment friendly practices. Being a customer, you have a responsibility. By choosing which product you purchase, you have the power to influence companies and create a better future for upcoming generations. Use it wisely.
Written by Jyoti Dasila