The Co-operative Group is developing a fully biodegradable paper tea bag, which it claims could save nine tonnes of plastic wastage per year.

The group’s own-brand 99 tea could be on shelves later this year without polypropylene - an industry-wide method used to enable teabags to hold their shape.

The Co-op Group has joined forces with its tea supplier, Typhoo, and Ahlstrom-Munksjö, specialists in sustainable fibre solutions, to develop a new method of heat-sealing bags which will eliminate the use of the more widely-used plastic seal and make them fully compostable in food waste collections after use.

The new bio-degradable bag is due to undergo rigorous testing in February. The Co-op intends to roll it out across its entire own-label standard tea range.

Co-op Food ceo Jo Whitfield said: “Many tea drinkers are blissfully unaware that the teabag from their daily cuppa is sealed using plastic. Even though it’s a relatively small amount, when you consider the six billion cups of tea that are brewed up every year in the UK, we are looking at around 150 tonnes of polypropylene – that’s an enormous amount of accumulated plastic waste that is either contaminating food waste compost collections or simply going to landfill.

“A cup of tea is part of our national psyche, so we felt it was imperative that we fix the problem as soon as possible. We’re absolutely committed to reducing plastic in our packaging and want to ensure that tea lovers can enjoy a guilt-free brew.”

The Co-op Group has a long-term ambition for 100% of its product packaging to be recyclable with an interim target of 80% by 2020. This includes reducing the use of unnecessary and hard-to-recycle plastic packaging and using more recycled content wherever possible.