It’s important to point out that silk or nylon tea bags are not new. In fact, The Simple Leaf’s very own master tea blender and taster tells us that Duncan’s Tea was interested in setting up a nylon teabag facility in India way back in the late 1970s. The market was to be the Gulf States in the Middle East. However, things went terribly wrong when a royal in one of these countries proclaimed that nylon causes cancer and promptly banned the import of nylon tea bags. Apparently he cited numerous medical studies to prove his point. Needless to say the Duncan’s plant cut its losses and ceased operations quickly.[1]

We chose to focus on the hottest trend in teabags of the moment - pyramid shapes made with silky, food-grade nylon materials, with no glue or staples, and filled with whole leaf tea, fruit, flowers and herbs. A concept that was first launched by NASA/Fuso industries in Tokyo, Japan, in the 1980s[2] especially for green tea, it took until now for the market to mature to the point where a large enough group of consumers for it to be profitable were open to such an idea. Today the use of these new bags has exploded, to the point where most specialty packers have at least a segment of their line in a pyramidal shape and/or a nylon material - and changed the shape of the teabag industry.

Tatsuya Hayashida of NASA Corporation says that since pyramid bags have more space inside than the traditional flat bags, it allows room for packers to put what they formerly put in tins, in teabags instead.

The mesh bags are made from polylactic acid material derived from cornstarch (PLA). They were introduced in US at a trade show by Mighty Leaf Tea Co., (MLT) based in San Rafael, California. Mighty Leaf rolled out nylon mesh bags about 10 years ago as a way to put whole tea leaves in individual packaging. MLT’s bags don’t have staples and not sealed with ultrasound: each individual bag is sawn by hand with cotton thread.[3]

Nylon mesh tea bags, whether round or pyramid shaped are the new “in thing”. And they’ve just gone mass market with the launch of Lipton’s new pyramid tea bags.

On the contrary Numi’s tea stated on their web site: Numi does not follow the trend of using "silky," seethrough (nylon or cornstarch/GMO-based) tea bags. [4]

Additionally, while the nylon tea bag supposedly provides a better tasting cup of tea; there have been no long term studies on the effects of drinking tea that have made using these bags. Consumers may be getting more than just the tea. [5]

[6]PLA is produced by NatureWorks: the largest lactic-acid plant in the world located in Nebraska. Into one end of the complex goes corn; out the other come white pellets, an industrial resin poised to become the future of plastic. The resin, known as polylactic acid (PLA), is formed into containers and packaging for food and consumer goods.

Corn plastic has been around for 20 years, but the polymer was too expensive for broad commercial

applications until 1989, when Patrick Gruber, then a Cargill [7]chemist looking for new ways to use corn, invented a way to make the polymer more efficiently. In the beginning, it cost $200 to make a pound of PLA; now it’s less than $1

But PLA has considerable drawbacks that haven’t been publicized.

PLA is in principle compostable, meaning that it will break down under certain conditions into harmless natural compounds. According to a biodegradability standard, PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a “controlled composting environment” in fewer than 90 days. [8]

What’s a controlled composting environment? Not your backyard bin, pit or tumbling barrel. It’s a large facility where compost—essentially, plant scraps being digested by microbes into fertilizer—reaches 140 degrees for ten consecutive days. So, yes, as PLA advocates say, corn plastic is “biodegradable.” But in reality very few consumers have access to the sort of composting facilities that can make that happen.

NatureWorks has identified 113 such facilities nationwide—some handle industrial food-processing waste or yard trimmings, others are college or prison operations—but only about a quarter of them accept residential foodscraps collected by municipalities. [9]

Despite PLA’s potential as an environmentally friendly material, it seems clear that a great deal of corn packaging, probably the majority of it, will end up in landfills. And there’s no evidence it will break down there any faster or more thoroughly than any other form of plastic.

Glenn Johnston, manager of global regulatory affairs for NatureWorks, says that a PLA container dumped in a landfill will last “as long as a PET bottle.” No one knows for sure how long that is, but estimates range from 100 to 1,000 years. [10]

In addition, most of the corn that NatureWorks uses to make PLA resin is genetically modified to resist pests.

Currently about 30% of domestic corn is genetically engineered. But as Dan Dye, vice president of the North American Grain Group for Cargill Inc., points out keeping them separate is "neither practical nor economically viable" for the company. [11]

TeaForte stated on their web site: “Our unique Silken-Tea-Infusers are individually hand crafted, and provide the world's finest method to brew a cup of. [12]

We didn’t find any detailed information what the infusers was made of. But base on our research and overview of the market most likely they are made from polylactic acid material or PLA which are made from genetically engineered corn.

[1] Tea. Uncomplicated. The Simple leaf blog. The health issue.
[2] Tea and coffee trade magazine. May 2009, What’s new in the teabag machine industry? By Wendy Komancheck
[3] Tea and coffee trade magazine. March 2007. It’s in the bag. By Jane Pettigrew.
[4] Numi’s organic teas web page. Learn, green practices.
[5] Green living tips. Nylon tea bags?.
[6] Smithsonian magazine, “Corn Plastic to the rescue”, August 2006. By Elizabeth Royte. Page 1.
[7] Greenfleece or Greenwash? by Tom Price, Special to Corpwatch, April 22nd, 2002. Fabric from Corn.
[8] Smithsonian magazine, “Corn Plastic to the rescue”, August 2006. By Elizabeth Royte. Page 2.
[9] Smithsonian magazine, “Corn Plastic to the rescue”, August 2006. By Elizabeth Royte. Page 2.
[10] Smithsonian magazine, “Corn Plastic to the rescue”, August 2006. By Elizabeth Royte. Page 3.
[11] Smithsonian magazine, “Corn Plastic to the rescue”, August 2006, By Elizabeth Royte. Page 4.
[12] Behind the design.