Banner Image: A cup of tea. Photo credit: Traidcraft
Tea—the quintessentially British drink that we love so much so that 100 million cups are drank daily, translating to almost 36 billion per year. There are so many variations of tea, ranging from black tea to green and peppermint, touting a range of health benefits. For example, green tea has been linked to fat loss, improving brain functioning, and lowering the risk of cancer. Other teas, such as white tea, pack a punch with antioxidants and are the least processed.
Have you ever considered the negatives of drinking tea? New research has found that one plastic tea bag can shed billions of microplastic particles, which is significantly higher than the predicted amount of microplastic particles consumed by a person across a whole year.
Nano particles in our tea bags
The modern world is filled with new worries and concerns that were once non-existent, with one key concern being the consumption of harmful plastics. According to the research conducted, there is an increasing presence of micro-and nano-sized particles in both the environment, our food and drink, and consequently our bodies. Although many of us are mindful in attempting to reduce single-use plastics, there are some manufacturers who use plastic tea bags instead of traditional paper options. When these plastic tea bags were put to the test, 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion smaller nano plastic particles are released per bag into the water.
For tea bags to be sealed and to retain their shape in boiling water, polypropylene—a plastic polymer—is added. Although yes, the amount of plastic found in tea bags is small, it can add up significantly, considering how many cups of tea you’ll likely drink in your lifetime. Due to the plastic content, they cannot completely decompose, leaving residue behind and being washed away into our ecosystem. This makes them a bad option for both compost material and the environment.
Nanoparticles aren’t just found in teabags. You can ingest them through bottled water, as well as a long list of fruit and veg. Due to the reduced size of these particles, organisms that are at the base of the food chain can ingest them. For example, research has shown that microplastics are contaminating the fruit and veg we eat including apples, carrots, and lettuces, due to absorbing nano plastics through their roots.
In August, the Guardian reported that microplastics particles are now discoverable in human organs, but the potential impact on human health is not yet known.
Plastic free tea bags?
Manufacturers are on the hunt for sustainable and environmentally friendly materials to bind our teabags with.
Many manufacturers are working to create fully plastic-free bags. Since August last year, Ringtons have been testing a new, more environmentally conscious teabag material. This new teabag material— polylactic acid (PLA)—contains a bioplastic, derived from plants. PLA material has the same properties as its predecessor, polypropylene, but is renewable, sustainable, and biodegradable.
You don’t have to wait to ingest tea safely—another option if you want to completely avoid these nanoparticles is to drink loose-leaf tea. Loose-leaf tea can be brewed just as easily and has benefits for your tastebuds, too. Loose leaf tea is typically more flavourful and aromatic as the tea leaves haven’t been ground to dust for plastic-riddled tea bags!
You can do that—or you can drink organic coffee instead. Coffee has become the world’s most popular drink, with around two billion cups consumed every day.
Hernandez, L.M., Xu, E.G., Larsson, H.C., Tahara, R., Maisuria, V.B. and Tufenkji, N., 2019. Plastic teabags release billions of microparticles and nanoparticles into tea. Environmental science & technology, 53(21), pp.12300-12310.