It was the footballer Darren Fletcher who appeared to drop the makers of Yorkshire Tea in hot water, complaining on social media that his “normally reliable and excellent” bags of Britain’s second most popular brand had split open.
The problem, it emerged, was a new biodegradable material to replace the oil-based plastic used to glue the bags together. It had worked fine in tests.
“There is an industry-wide move towards using something that can either be industrially composted or would degrade,” said Dom Dwight, marketing director at Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate, who added that a particular batch of Yorkshire Gold tea bags had been identified as the source of the problem.
He said: “Sir David Attenborough introduced the world to the notion of plastic in the ecosystem never going away.
“With a tea bag, every other element breaks down and ultimately biodegrades but there is an almost invisible mesh of tiny plastic filaments left, and there’s an issue with plastic being distributed around the ecosystem.
“We’ve all reached a point of realising that’s not acceptable any more and even those tiny elements of plastic need to be prevented from ever entering the ecosystem in the first place.”
The company, which sponsors environmental projects in Rwanda, from where some of its tea is sourced, had set itself a target of this time next year to complete the switch. It promised a remedy for customers with problem bags, saying: “People are used to our tea bags being reliable, so it’s a big deal when they go wrong.”
Mr Dwight said: “We stick our necks out by talking about the fact that we aim to do everything properly, and sometimes that isn’t easy. We don’t claim to be perfect but we are trying to do everything as best we can and our passion is one of the things that’s got us where we’ve got.”