A New Study Shows Plastic Teabags Can Leach Billions of Plastic Particles Into Your Tea
A new study published on Environmental Science & Technology last month examined plastic teabags and what exactly happens to that plastic in the teabag when it’s steeped in boiling-hot water. Researchers found that a single plastic teabag leaches approximately 14.7 billion plastic particles into a cup of tea. Researchers are urging consumers to avoid plastic teabags and use only loose tea or natural teabags like those made out of paper.
Modern life is full of plastic. It’s everywhere - toys, electronics, kitchen items. Even in our food. That’s right. Teeny tiny particles of plastic make its way into our food and water every day. And while there isn’t substantial research to show that these tiny amount of plastic are harmful to our health, there just isn’t a lot of research on the subject yet.
One food item that’s been in the news a lot recently are teas that have plastic in the teabag. Some teabags, specifically the ones that are more of a pyramid shape, contain plastic, instead of more traditional teabags that are made of paper.
So, is it safe to drink tea from these kinds of teabags? Lets look to see what the research really has to say.
The rising trend of plastic teabags
After noticing the rise in popularity of plastic teabags, Professor of Chemical Engineering Nathalie Tufenkji decided to look into it further. As she told The Washington Post, “I thought, ‘That’s not a very good idea, putting plastic into boiling water’”.
So, she decided to find out what happens when you put plastic teabags into hot water to make tea.
Tufenkji and her team collected tea bags from four grocery stores and coffee shops in Montreal, Canada. They cut the plastic teabags with scissors and remove the tea inside, to ensure that any plastic they measured was from the teabag and not the tea.
They then submerged the empty teabags in nearly-boiling water (95 C / 203 F) for five minutes, they took samples of the water and analyzed it using microscopes to see how many plastic particles were present, and how big they were.
Tufenkji and her team found that one plastic teabag steeped for 5 minutes releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics in to the water. In total, that’s over 14 billion plastic particles in one cup of tea brewed from a plastic teabag.
Read a press release of the whole study here.
Plastic in our food and water
We already ingest quite a lot of tiny plastic particles from foods and drinks every day. Earlier this year, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released a report that estimates on average we consume about 5 grams of plastic each week, about the size of a credit card.
And that’s just in one week! Over the course of a year, that’s 260 grams of plastic, equal to more than 1/2 pound of plastic!
The amount of plastic particles that researchers found in plastic tea bags is thousands of times more than has been reported in other foods. So if you’re a big tea drinker and you tend to use those plastic teabags, you could be ingesting more than the average 5 grams of plastic in a week.
Is it safe to drink tea from plastic teabags?
In short, the WWF has not found evidence that the plastic we consume from food and drinks is harmful to health. Generally, the plastic particles in our food and water are too big to get absorbed from our digestive systems into our bodies, so they just pass right through into the toilet. They do acknowledge, however, that there isn’t a ton of research on the subject, and more research is needed to assess the potential harm of plastic particles in our food and water.
So while it seems for now that there is no harm to using plastic teabags and potentially drinking billions of particles of plastic, we don’t know what future research will show us.
Plus, if we’re already eating and drinking a credit card’s worth of plastic each week, how much more do you really want to put into your body?
Ultimately, you as the customer can decide what kind of tea you like to drink. For me, I usually drink tea from paper teabags, so I’m not so concerned if I’m at a coffee shop and see that the tea I order is in a plastic teabag.
But, if you’re someone that drinks tea very often, and it comes in those bags, you can decide if you want to switch up your routine.