Product of the Week: Iced Tea
Teaing up for refreshment? Think about the ingredients before purchasing.
Ah, the simple pleasure of iced tea on a warm afternoon after a day out and about. On average, Americans enjoy 8.3 gallons of tea every year, which take just over ½ a pound of tea to brew. Most Americans drink iced tea, which accounts for 85% of our consumption, and increasingly it comes from a convenient, ready to drink brand of tea. In fact, we spend over $5 billion a year on prepared teas like Arizona, Lipton, and Gold Peak. The amount we drink has more than doubled in the last twenty years, in part due to the health benefits associated with tea.
Next time you enjoy your favorite iced tea, think to yourself, just where did those delightful ingredients (mainly tea and sugar) come from and how were they grown? Well, since America doesn’t grow tea, however, it is the third biggest importer of tea. China (one of its glorious tea plantations at left), India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia are the leading global tea producers. Tea consumed in America iced tea often comes from Argentina or Kenya. And the sugar comes from over 50 countries!
All of those countries producing the ingredients can have different farming impacts and different levels of worker and human rights protection. If you’re having an uncertified brand, that thought might be less refreshing…
You had me at first flush!
Actually, iced tea typically comes from the second or third flushes (or growth) of the season for tealeaves. The high quality first growth of a tea plant ends up in high-end teas. Our ready to drink iced teas at the super market, restaurants and other stores typically comes from later season growth for tea. The later flushes are exposed to more pesticides. Sometimes the residue on tea leaves can be higher than normally allowed by your country regulators for food safety. These pesticides, like endosulfan and chlorpyrofos sound as nasty as they are.
There are no synthetic pesticides used to grow certified Organic and typically fewer pesticides used in growing tea that meets other sustainability standards.
Buying less chemically exposed pesticides is a relief, anything else to worry about?
Yep. Tea plantations use a lot of water and pollute nearby water, sometimes unsustainably, to grow your tea. The prepared tea also has a lot of sugar in it that can come from sugarcane grown in conditions that use a lot of water and pollute nearby rivers, lakes, and oceans, too. Not only is the pollution from pesticides, but also fertilizer that creates hypoxic or dead zones that harm offshore ecosystems like coral reefs. There can also be a lot of soil loss from tea and sugarcane plantations through unsustainable farming practices.
What about people, who work the tea and sugarcane plantations?
The laborers on tea and cane plantations don’t always have their rights protected. Work on these plantations can be hard but necessary employment for livelihoods in impoverished countries. Cane cutting work can sometimes be characterized as an outdoor sweatshop, especially without the appropriate clean water, rest and shade for workers. Cane and tea plantations have really low wages (sometimes below minimum and barely enough to live off). Workers can be subject to discrimination and harassment. Additionally, workers don’t always have adequate safety equipment to protect from injury. There have even been instances on tea plantations where the workers are entirely dependent on their management for housing and food. This has even resulted in sexual abuse. Oh, and sometimes kids work on the plantations in dangerous jobs, just picture that when you’re enjoying a sip!
Suddenly this sweet tea seems less refreshing and more depressing!
Chin up, you can make a contribution to the world and enjoy your tea; just buy certified brands!
Tea and sugarcane are important sources of employment and economic drivers in the countries that provide the iced tea ingredients. In Kenya there are 3 million tea farmers and workers, and there are 80 million tea farmers and workers in China.
Certification has real positive impacts on real people. And it doesn’t typically cost much more to make a positive impact for your health by drinking tea and the workers and environment that provide it for you! Plus it’s a $5 billion industry, so the non-certified brands can afford to make lives and the environment better.
Don’t believe that certification has an impact, check out these videos from tea workers and growers who work at certified farms:
Now that you are convinced, buy sustainably certified brands and avoid uncertified brands:
😃 Green Brands: Honest Tea (sustainable tea and cane sugar)
😐 Yellow Brands: Pure Leaf Tea House Collection (just Organic Tea), Lipton Tea (sustainable tea)
😡 Red Brands: Arizona Tea, Nestea, Gold Peak, Snapple Tea, Pure Leaf
We didn’t make this stuff up…