Tea Bag Vermicomposting

I’ve always been a “coffee guy” (nothin quite like a nice cup of joe to start my morning off on the right foot), and almost never drank tea. But that has changed a lot recently, ever since developing a keen interest in green tea (and herbal teas).

This might sound a tad extreme (or not…I dunno), but I am currently up to 6 or 7 cups of the stuff, on average, each day (still drink a bit of coffee, but not as much). My wife usually has at least a couple of cups of herbal tea each day as well, and so – for the first time ever – I have found myself with a LOT of used tea bags on my hands!

Naturally, being the worm-head that I am, this got me thinking…(Uh oh! haha)

I started wondering what it would be like to basically set up a vermicomposting system that would ONLY receive tea bags – nothing else. This just happened to be right around the time that I also checked on my “ridiculously badly neglected worm bin“, so I knew what I had to do!

Half of the material from the badly neglected bin was used for my “Tiny Red Worm Rehab” project, and the other half will serve as my starter culture for the tea bag vermicomposting project.

NOTE: I mentioned above that the plan was to set up a system that will “ONLY receive tea bags”. While this will be true moving forward, I did at least want to help things out a bit by adding some bedding and a little food (other than tea bags) when starting up the system.

The set-up process was extremely simple. First I added a bit of shredded cardboard (on the empty side), along with my current supply of tea bags.

I then added some water and sprinkled in a small amount of chick starter feed.

Next, I added a bit more cardboard and then simply moved all the wormy material over from the other side. As touched on in my Tiny Red Worm Rehab post, there seemed to be a lot more worms in the material used for the tea bag project, so it will be interesting to compare population size between the bins as the worms (hopefully) start to bounce back!

I ended up adding a garbage bag over top of the worm zone, along with the original lid (that was one the neglected bin). No real rhyme or reason for using the lid (while not using one for the other bin), other than the fact that I really want to help these worms to re-hydrate, and want to encourage lots of microbial action in the food zone.

From here on out, I will only be adding tea bags to the system (will likely collect them for a week at a time and add all at once). I am very eager to see how things pan out!

If any of you have used a lot of tea bags in your worm bins I would love to hear about it – be sure to add your comments below!

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    • Laurie Sherman
    • September 29, 2017

    I have been vermicomposting teabags of all sorts for many years, never a trace left (except occasionally the staples or if the bag uses nylon string)

    • Caleb F
    • September 29, 2017

    My wife and I go through about a dozen teabags a week (I bring my used ones home with me from the office) and always feed them to my worms. They love them! They’re always devoured quickly and entirely, and I’m sure their mix of small material including dried (but rehydrated) leaves, herbs, fruit, etc is an excellent variety of source material for the worms, especially if you drink different kinds. We mostly go through Earl Grey, Lipton, and Paris tea.

    I have wondered (and need to research further), does caffeine have any effect on worms in the same it does mammals – as a stimulant? Does it speed their processing of material, expedite growth, and increase reproduction? Does it have any detrimental affect if they have too much caffeine as part of their diet?

    I have a premix of unused coffee grounds and ground egg shells that I sprinkle over every feeding I give to my wormies, and I have wondered if it accelerates them in any way – but this would certainly apply to caffeinated teabags too!

    One thing to look out for – a lot of teabags out there now have a very-thin lining of non-degradable material. I’m not sure if its plastic or nylon or what it is, but I’m constantly pulling out little thin films of something in the shape of tea bags. The main paper of the lining is gone, just the film. So you might have to sift through your bin for these linings, again depending on your tea type and manufacturer.

    I’m excited to see the results of your experiment. To be honest I think this bin will absolutely thrive.

    • Lois Zerrer
    • September 29, 2017

    I was wondering how damp/wet the tea bags were that you put in as you started up the “new” bin. I usually just let the tea bag cool down to room temp then tear it open and dump tea and bag into the worm bin. The tea is pretty damp when it is added to the bin, helping to keep the worm bedding damp.
    I would think letting them sit for a week the tea and paper would be dried out. In the past I have let my bin(s) get a bit dry and I think my worms have suffered, so I try to make sure I keep the moisture and a good level.

    • Desiree
    • September 29, 2017

    I have thrown the occasional green tea bag in, removing staples. The worms seem to compost them well. The problem is I drink a lot of cinnamon herbal tea. Will cinnamon kill the worms?

    • Richard
    • October 1, 2017

    Will be very interesting to see how well the worms do in just tea bags! In my experience I am seeing that they absolutely love anything sweet and go crazy for poop!

    • Joe
    • October 1, 2017

    We make kombucha tea twice a week, so have 12 bags each week that get added to the worm bin. Don’t know if this is considered a lot but we have been doing this for the past two+ years and the bags pretty much just turn to compost. I have found that the best way to add the bags is to remove the strings and the staples, if there are any, and rip the bag so that the worms can process them quicker. Recently we have switched tea to bags that don’t have strings, which makes the process a lot easier. No more strings and staples to worry about. Sometimes the only thing I find left from the bag is a real flimsy fluff. Before when I would harvest there would be strings that hadn’t composted yet. Can’t say if the worms ‘love’ the tea but it definitely does get processed.

  1. Looking at the last photograph I notice there are rather large holes drilled in the side. I did the same thing with a bin I put together. Actually, I found the plastic bin floating down the river, it had large holes in it. I decided to use it because I thought maybe someone lost their bin in a storm. The holes were about 1″, just right for mice to enter and exit the cafeteria. They ate all of my worms, the bin was in my garage so I was careless. I learned 1/4″ holes, 5/16″ max. and plenty of them.
    Good post! Jim

    • Renee
    • October 4, 2017

    My worms LOVE tea bags! I don’t use a lot of them (the green tea i drink uses synthetic materials for their bags, part of why I don’t drink more of it), but they get a gallon sized black tea bag every week or so after I refresh my kombucha. I checked on them yesterday and found a good amount of them in and around one of the large tea bags… it takes them a while to fully break down the bags, but eventually they disappear. I find tea bag “skeletons” quite often.

    • andre
    • October 5, 2017

    thanks for all your posts, research and experiments. There has been one experiment similar to this done by London worm and garden. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyU61epRYpE&t=234s

    however, i am very curious to your results to see if they are similar and also interested in your conclusion. as an addition to worm-compost teabags are surely great.

    • Bentley
    • October 6, 2017

    Renee – I didn’t realize there might be a risk of ending up with synthetic bags. I will have to look into this to make sure mine aren’t synthetic as well.
    Andre – thanks for sharing that. Very interesting. Hopefully the worms do OK but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    • Tonto
    • October 26, 2017

    Bit late, but as others mentioned you can get the little plastic nets left over after the paper has been eaten.

    I’ve found most teabags (I get what is on special so drink all types heh) seem to have a plastic base on which the paper part of the teabag is built on. For strength I guess. I tried some PC (Pres choice)fully organic teabags… but they didn’t get composted at all. They might be organic in origin, but no idea what they are now.

    What I do is during a TV show, I rip open the bag and dip it in a pot of water. That washes out all the tea leaves. Repeat while watching and end up with a pot full of loose tea :). The leaves sink so easy to pour off the extra water.

    And you know how pure coffee grinds can dry out when by themselves, I find mixing them with tea leaves which are good at holding water makes a good combo. So I give my worms that combo.

    • Amy C Thoren
    • December 18, 2017

    I drink a lot of tea. I make sure to never buy tea with synthetic bags, and I’ve figured out which brands don’t have staples. Essentially, everything goes in the worm bin, and I almost never see a bag again (or the string, or the tag) after I toss it in. Apart from watermelon rinds, tea bags are my favorite thing to feed my worms.

    • Anna
    • December 29, 2017

    I have added some teabags to my worm bin in the past but since I’ve learned that they often contain plastic I don’t like adding them anymore.I’m not too worried about the worms, but I really don’t want tiny pieces of microplastic in the castings that will eventually end up in the environment.
    Now I just buy loose tea in bulk, me and my worms love it 😉
    If you’re looking for information about plastic in teabags, this article is from a few years back but might still be helpful: https://treadingmyownpath.com/2014/07/11/the-scandalous-plastic-in-tea-bags-who-knew/

    I’ve had a worm bin for one year and a half now and the info you provide on your blog has been super helpful and inspiring. Thank you so much for your great work!

    • Bentley
    • January 12, 2018

    Looks like I missed a lot of comments last fall!

    LAURIE – That’s great! Thanks for chiming in.

    CALEB – I agree, variety of herbal (etc) teas will only improve the overall nutritional value (and maybe even appeal) for the worms. Great question about caffeine! Definitely a lot more in coffee – and they seem to do very well with grounds. Interesting about the plastic liner – others mention this as well. I haven’t seen any evidence of this so far myself.

    LOIS – My tea bags tend to sit in the sink or in a cup briefly before being tossed in a big zip lock bag (kept open for air flow). They are quite moist and a fair bit of liquid actually accumulates in the bottom of the holding bag over time. I would describe it as pretty close to “ideal” moisture content for a worm bin, but I have started balancing it a bit by adding the paper packet certain tea bags come in (not the glossy ones though).

    DESIREE – That is an interesting question! I would be hesitant to dump in large quantities of cinammon on its own, but brewed cinammon in tea mixes is most likely totally harmless.

    RICHARD – So far they definitely seem to be very happy with this food source!

    JOE – Thanks for sharing! I am seeing some accumulation of string, but I am sure over time it will break down as well. We’ll see if the stables eventually rust and dissolve – so far the jury is still out on that one!

    JIM – I have really grown to love big holes in my plastic bins (although, keep in mind they are almost always indoor bins). The increased air flow is very very helpful!

    RENEE – Wow, a gallon per week? That is a LOT. Glad your worms are enjoying the food source!

    ANDRE – thanks for the link. I will have to check that out! Seems to be a lot of interest in this topic!

    TONTO – Sounds like you might be a fellow Canadian! I have actually put in some PC tea bags and they seemed to get completely consumed. All I found in the bin was an assortment of staples and strings. lol

    AMY – Thanks for your input! I still have not found any with synthetic liners, but as touched on already I am seeing some accumulation of string and staples (not too worried about either one over the long haul).

    ANNA – Thanks for the link. This seems to be a topic that keeps coming up, so there must be quite a few brands that have plastic liners etc.
    Thanks for the kind words!

    Phew! Thanks everyone. As touched on there seems to be a ton of interest in this topic. Do stay tuned.

    • Antonio
    • January 13, 2018

    The good thing about red worms is that no matter what organic material you throw on them, they will transform it into the best compost there is.
    I have been doing vermicomposting for many years and ofcourse using tea bags (good Nitrogene and microelements source) together with the rest of organic waste. This mixed of organic matter is important for better results. Just one remark: I tear apart the tea bags and therefore, the worms have an earlier and faster access to this important source of good compost.

    • Bentley
    • January 13, 2018

    ANTONIO – thanks for your input! I agree – pretty well ANY organic matter, if prepared properly, has the potential to be a good worm “food” or “bedding”. But there are definitely some nuances there! lol
    I also agree that mixes work best (vs too much of any one thing).

    • Tammy
    • January 21, 2020

    I am not a worm composter, but I recently discovered a worm in my potted plant (I used soil from outdoors) and feel that since I have kidnapped it from its natural habitat, I would like to give it a good vacation until I can return it to the out of doors. It is currently dead of winter. I confess there is a part of me that wonders if it will like its small resort. I was thinking herbal tea grounds would be something that I can provide, but I am curious about the “caution” food for worms, specifically lemon peel (in the lemon tea) and if mint would work

    • Bentley
    • January 21, 2020

    Hi Tammy – soil worms and composting worms tend to be quite different in terms of preferences and tolerance. Your garden worms should do ok in the soil environment, and a small input of extra organic matter should be ok (the tea leaves idea seems good to me) – but I would steer well clear of typical worm composting methods. Wastes decomposing in a potted plant won’t likely be good for the plant (or the soil worm) and moving the worm to an actual typical vermicomposting bin likely won’t be as idea either. Tea leaves are a pretty mellow waste material, not super rich in nutrition and I would think they work quite well.

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