Sustainability and organic with Sunbird Rooibos

Sustainable Packaging and Rooibos Products

On the path to better packaging.

When I started Sunbird, I was convinced that I would sell mostly, perhaps even exclusively loose leaf Rooibos. I had learned about tea through high-quality whole-leaf orthodox teas and thought that I could carve this niche out for Rooibos. Apart from a better cup at the end of the process, it had the added bonus of having far less packaging and so being better for the environment. However, I was very quickly steered in the ‘right’ direction as our sole teabag offering outsold the rest of the range by a ratio of two to one!

It was tough to admit mistakes and go back on principles, but we had adapt. The word ‘sustainability’ gets thrown around a lot, but the first rule for a business promoting it’s sustainability credentials is that it has to sustain itself. A bankrupt business isn’t doing any favours to the environment any more than an extinct species is contributing to biodiversity. Adapt or die… once again natural principles can be applied to economics. 

Fortunately, we are detecting signs that the market is learning and we are soon to release a range of loose teas to complement our infusers. So, it’s a good time to look at initiatives that we are taking to reduce our packaging footprint. 


Compostable teabags

This is not new – it’s something we’ve been doing for 5 years now. What is a development is that we are now amongst the minority of Rooibos producers going this route. We outsource our teabagging and while we’re not sure what’s happening at every packing facility, we’ve been surprised to learn that we are now the only client who insists on compostable tea bag paper. Other well-known brands used to use it, but have walked back on compostability as a way of saving cost.. At Sunbird this is a principle that we will not compromise on.


Recyclable pouches

It’s often been said: “Plastic is not the problem. It’s how humans use it that’s the problem” (I wanted to attribute this to reknown Marine Biologist Sylvia Earle, but can’t find it referenced to her). Plastic is an incredibly useful material. However, when it ceases to be useful to the user, it becomes incredibly problematic. As such we’ve opted to package our loose tea in recyclable doy pouches – which again is not the industry norm. While many foods use stand up pouches with a bottom gusset and top zip, they often use different plastics, making them challenging to recycle. (Watch out for the recycle ‘7’ logo – which means ‘other plastics/non-recyclable’)



While we often choose the convenience of a tea bag, loose tea gives a better cup of tea. Although our tea bags are certainly a step in the right direction, a great leap is to drop them altogether for a reusable – and eventually 100% recyclable – stainless steel infuser. It’s minimal extra effort and it’s an opportunity to treat the extra activity as a ritual, rather than a chore. Pause life and take a moment to focus on the simple, yet pleasurable actions of making a cup of Rooibos.


Paper tape and flier bags

Courier deliveries have changed many businesses and indeed much of our lives. However the single use plastic involved irked us tremendously. Accordingly we’ve now switched to paper tape with a water based glue and also paper flier bags for our smaller deliveries through our website orders – perhaps you’ve received one recently. 


I once attended a seminar on ‘sustainable’ packaging and the one phrase that stuck in my head was ‘don’t let imperfection hinder progress’. So we are not perfect, but unfortunately, as with the greater problems challenging our society – they are complex and there are no quick solutions, no silver bullets. But is important to not let this deter us. Progress should be continuous and constant. And while grand gestures may get attention, it’s the accumulation of small changes that will ultimately define success.


We hope that you will join us on this journey to a better future.





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