Consumption, Ethical Choices, Life in Paris

Low-Waste, Fair Trade, or Organic

I went tea-shopping, y’all.

I’ve been drinking tea that was a gift from E’s mom for several months. Part of my “stress less” evening routine is a pot of green tea, and I’ve finished all of the sachets of green tea, green tea with mint, and even the green tea with lemon (not my favourite).

Having arrived at the end of my tea collection, I’ve got an opportunity to purchase tea that is in line with some of my 2017 habit-changes/goals. I went to the shops today to find an organic, fair trade, low-waste (i.e. no plastic packaging) tea.

Apparently, I’m also in search of a unicorn. I went to 7 shops in search of my tea trifecta, and things didn’t go as planned. It was quite the weekend adventure, to say the least.

There are four organic grocery stores in my neighbourhood, but none of them sell loose leaf tea. The organic, fair trade tea that they do sell is packaged in individual, non-recyclable plastic bags. When you compare fair trade to plastic packaging, which do you take? People are more important than plastic to me, but every single piece of plastic ever created still exists today.

The Monoprix and the Franprix offered green teas of undeclared origins, also wrapped in plastic. I didn’t really expect to find my tea there, but I have hope that bigger chains will recognise a demand for organic, fair trade goods, and start to stock them. Not today!

After I left my sixth store, tea-less, I Googled two large tea shops in Paris : Mariages Frères and Kusmi. Neither offer fair trade teas, and while Mariages Frères offers an organic green tea, it costs 50€ per sachet, and the sachets are plastic. Pass!!

I turned back toward my home, and in doing so, I saw the Palais des Thés that opened on our street a few weeks ago. I hadn’t yet been into the store, and it never occurred to me that the solution might be right next to my house.

As it turns out, the solution was not right next to my house, but I got pretty close. I was greeted by a teenager in a cloth apron, and I explained that I was looking for an organic, fair trade tea, either in unbleached, compostable sachets without plastic wrap, or loose in a reusable jar. The entire shop was full of bright green tea canisters which gave me hope, but he winced when I asked for fair trade.

Palais des Thés can sell you tea straight from the canister, that is, unless it’s organic. The organic teas need to be sold in plastic sachets in order to guarantee that they’re organic… This doesn’t really explain why you can’t simply have organic-only canisters of tea, but I didn’t raise that point with the kid who was clearly not in charge of the supply chain.

We stared at each other for a moment, and I asked for a minute to think. I picked up the packet of Japanese green tea – a thick, recyclable plastic, with two little organic certification symbols on the front.

There was no information on fair trade or environmentally ethical practices in the shop, and even though there was a manager present, I didn’t ask to speak to him. I just wanted my tea. I spotted little metal canisters sitting on another shelf, some covered in washi paper, others plain white or plain green.

If I could keep the tea in a canister, and then look into Palais des Thés farming practices, maybe I could simply buy non-certified green tea later, and try to hit at least part of my organic, fair trade, low-waste target. I asked the sales person for the white jar, and the green tea.

He rung me up, punched a customer loyalty card, and 17,20€ later the little white canister (3€) filled with 100g of organic, Japanese Sencha de Mai (14,20€) was rattling in my purse. I walked a few doors down back to my apartment, put a pot of water on the stove, and got to Googling.

In terms of the fair trade issue, Palais des Thés is allegedly engaged in ethical sourcing that includes :

  • pas de travail des enfants, ni de travail forcé (no child labor, or forced labor)
  • respect de l’environnement et utilisation de méthodes culturales propres, (respect for the environment and the use of clean farming methods)
  • pas de déforestation, no deforestation)
  • versement de salaires décents aux travailleurs, (decent wages paid to workers)
  • respect des normes d’hygiène et de sécurité. (respect of hygiene and safety standards)

Yet…. If they’re truly engaged in ethical sourcing, why aren’t they fair trade certified? I appreciate that they’re working on the environmental ethics of tea farming, but surely if they require decent wages and respect of health and safety standards, they could work with fair trade tea farmers.

In the end, what is more important? Organic farming practices are important, but even an organic tea crop can be contaminated by nearby use of synthetic pesticides, though no fault of the organic farmer. Fair trade is important to avoid slavery conditions among workers, but what is the difference in quality of life of farmers in a fair trade scheme vs. ethical sourcing scheme? Finally, all this plastic!! Does organic and fair trade make an actual environmental difference if everything is wrapped up in plastic?

For now, I’m going to use my recyclable tea package as a snack bag (it’s resealable!) until it wears out and I have to recycle it. I’m also going to send an email to the Palais des Thés customer service and ask for more information about their supply chain, specifically about the farms they source from in Japan. As with Ekyog earlier this month, I doubt I’ll get a response, but it can’t hurt to try.

If you know of a low-waste, certified organic and fair trade tea in France, please let me know! I don’t want to ship tea to myself, but I’m willing to walk and take public transport if such a unicorn beverage exists in/around Paris!

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