Bubble tea is causing controversy. Not just because it’s so good. But because it is racking up a whole lot of boba plastic waste.
You probably already know about the harms of using plastic by now. It’s like saying, John Travolta has had work done. No! Really?
The images of marine animals are seared into our brains, like turtles, with straws stuck up their nose, unable to breathe, or of dolphins with plastic stuck on their fins, cutting into their skin.
It’s enough to put you off boba forever with its heaps of plastic cups, lids, and straws.
You don’t have to give up your delicious bubble tea beverage just yet. There are ways of reducing your waste while still enjoying your favorite drink, such as avoiding those pesky single-use plastic milk tea cups.
We apologize in advance for the dark post, but we, as boba heads, should be responsible consumers so that other generations can enjoy the wonders of Mother Earth.
It’s not just boba plastic cups from our bubble tea that’s the problem. The cultivation of tea, the transport of it, and the chemicals used are all issues that are contributing to carbon emissions.
Every day, there are 8 million new pieces of plastic (1) polluting the ocean killing one million marine animals (2) every year.
Of the plastic produced, 50% of it, or 380 million tons per year is for single-use plastic which unfortunately includes all the cups, lids, and straws for boba tea.
While plastic is seen as recyclable, less than 9% (3) of it is recycled. Plus, a lot of it isn’t even recyclable which we’ll read about later on.
Single-use items such as your boba plastic cups are not only polluting our oceans, but they can expose us to harmful chemicals. These chemicals can leach from the plastic into the stored food items, especially when used to store hot beverages. Plastic packages have been linked with severe adverse health issues (4) such as cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, and reproductive effects.
This can be exacerbated if you drink hot drinks from certain plastics.
Not only can the chemicals harm us but the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in the tea industry harms our planet.
Tea itself can be ecologically friendly if cultivated sustainably because it absorbs greenhouse gases.
Growing tea supports tea tourism (5) and creates jobs, however, the amount of land needed means the destruction of natural forests and biodiversity.
The machines used in tea production use a lot of energy which increases the carbon footprint. Even boiling water to drink our tea is one of the highest energy-consuming (6) activities affecting the carbon footprint of tea.
Are you feeling guilty about creating boba plastic waste that would make David Attenborough lose his shit?
Don’t! It’s easy to make little changes to make your boba tea greener (we mean environmentally of course but you could have green tea too).
When you’re taking those cute Instashots remember that people are looking at you as an example. They may look pretty but it’s so much plastic!
Think before you click...
Single-use boba plastic includes a cup, a lid, and a straw. That’s a lot of plastic for an item you will use for 15 minutes, and potentially stay in the oceans for decades or centuries!
See the picture below as an example of where your boba drinks straws could end up…that seahorse does not look very happy.
Or this sea turtle likely died from ingesting too much plastic. Plastic bags and lids resemble jellyfish, one of the food sources of some sea turtle species.
Use reusable materials. Use reusable bubble tea cups and straws.
They can have great visual appeal - better than those boring single-use plastic cups!
Making pearl milk tea at home gives you more control of the boba plastic waste as well as the ingredients.
Plus, it saves you money!
Here are some easy recipes for your perusal!
You can use reusable cups and straws for a start. You can also use ingredients without preservatives and other ingredients which means less carbon dioxide needed to produce these and fewer pollutants. You can even make your own tapioca pearls, it’s a fun activity to do with family and friends!
You have control of your tea and you can make sure you use high-quality tea Fairtrade tea that is sustainably and ethically sourced. As such you can make your boba healthier. We recommend experimenting with the many different kinds of teas the world has to offer:
Planting practices such as polycultures are a more sustainable way of growing tea. It means growing two or more different useful plants on the same land at the same time. This increases biodiversity, enhances soil health, eliminates fossil fuel fertilizers, and cuts carbon.
Yes, it’s more convenient to get out your phone and order bubble tea via Uber Eats from boba shops but the amount of packaging used is unnecessary.
There’s no need.
Especially when you can experiment at home and customize your milk tea just the way you want it.
You probably won’t miss the diary from your boba. There are plenty of alternatives that can give your bubble tea a better flavor. Try some coconut milk with your strawberry tea or oat milk for a hint of nuttiness.
And how does making your boba vegan help the environment?
Beef has the highest greenhouse gas emissions (7) per kilogram of food, with 50kg more than any other food.
If everyone ate a plant-based diet, we would need 75% less farmland (8) which would mean less destruction of forests and wildlife.
Using reuseable bubble tea cups or a mason jar and metal straws not only saves the planet but saves you money. There are some really cute designs of cups that will keep your boba hot or cold for longer. And plastic chemicals won’t leach into your hot beverage.
There are a variety of reusable straws you can buy from stainless steel to silicone. If you have sensitive teeth you might want to make sure your straw has a silicone tip, so you don’t bang it with your pearly whites.
Or you can have your bubble tea without the straw.
Some bubble tea shops will be happy to use your own reusable bubble tea cup. Just make sure you state that you have your own cup, so they don’t make it in a plastic one first before pouring it into yours.
You might even get a discount for supplying your own cup.
Another way to reduce your boba plastic waste is to buy bubble tea kits! Especially if you don’t fancy buying everything separately. These bubble tea kits supply everything you need to make boba tea at home.
Some take minutes to produce a refreshing boba tea, perfect for a study break. Most kits will provide reusable materials, so you don’t have to keep buying them again and again.
They also make a great gift for any bubble tea fan.
More and more countries are banning single-use plastics. China banned single-use straws (9) in all restaurants by the end of 2020 as part of Beijing’s new policy initiative to reduce environmental pollution. They switched to paper straws which a lot of bubble tea consumers weren’t happy with, but you can always bring your own metal straw.
Taiwan, the home of bubble tea, aimed to ban all plastic straws by 2020 and they are committed to banning plastic items by 2030, (10) such as plastic bags.
Even in America, there has been a movement to get rid of plastic. Montgomery County Council in Washington passed a bill banning single-use plastic straws from May 1, 2021.
In San Francisco they banned plastic (11) straws on July 1 2019 and in Vancouver they banned single-use plastic straws (12) too. Vancouver did allow boba tea shops 12 months to phase them out because it’s such a big part of their product.
Other options have been suggested such as seaweed straws (13) or dry pasta straws. These are biodegradable (that's if you don't eat them).
Not all plastic is recyclable which is why this shouldn’t be your first option.
Straws are not recyclable (14) and coffee cups need a special machine otherwise they won’t be recycled either.
Recycling only works if there is a demand for it. Without market demand or due to poor quality it will end up in landfills or incinerators. Or the oceans.
Most plastic is made from crude oil which encourages the use of fossil fuels.
Not only is plastic bad for the environment but it’s bad for our bodies.
It’s shocking the amount of harm bubble tea and boba plastic can do to our planet. But there are plenty of ways we can still enjoy our favorite drink while being considerate of our environment.
Make those choices to reduce plastic waste and we’ll be protecting all those previous marine animals like the little baby turtles in Finding Nemo (I realize they weren’t real but there might be a turtle called little dude down there).
So let's be responsible together and reduce our boba plastic waste!