More than just tea in your tea bags
After getting home from a day full of lectures, you just want to lie down on your couch and make yourself a cup of hot tea simply by steeping that teabag in hot water. Have you ever noticed what these tea bags, the actual tea “bags”, are made from? Plastics or paper? If you are using plastic tea bags, you might want to throw them straightaway.
Credit to Helen Haden via Flickr, retrieved from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hellie55/42204993770/
Is plastic tea bag a real thing?
First of all, yes, there are plastic tea bags and people are drinking from them. Plastic tea bags are thought to be an upgrade of normal paper tea bags since you can actually see and smell the tea inside the bag. Normally, plastic tea bags are made from nylon which is not biodegradable. Moreover, a recent research conducted by scientists of McGill University suggested that these plastic tea bags are potentially harmful to your health. By simply steeping the bag of a plastic tea bag at 95oC, it releases 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics, which are millimetres and nanometres in size, in one cup of tea. Nowadays, thanks to plastic pollution, these tiny plastics exist everywhere even in our food. They are found to exist at a high level in table salt, however, a single cup of tea brewed from a plastic tea bag has thousands of times more of these plastics than those in one gram of salt.
How harmful are these plastics?
Different to these larger chunks of plastics which can be extremely harmful to many animal species, it is still not clear whether these tiny plastics can cause health damage. Although these microplastics are found extensively in our food, especially in seafood, there is not enough attention to this matter yet. There are limited studies showing how microplastics can damage other species such as mice and water fleas. Scientists showed that these plastics can cause dramatic behavioural difference and developmental malformations in water fleas. A study in mice also showed microplastics can accumulate in organs such as the liver which can increase the oxidative stress markers in the liver. These mice also have increased level of a molecule which is potentially harmful to the brain. The issue of microplastics has been reported by some social media, but more attention and researches are clearly needed.
So how to avoid microplastics?
Sadly, microplastics are everywhere now, they are in our food, water or even in the air. We can only do our best to reduce the intake of them. Firstly, start with drinking from paper tea bags or loose leaves. Secondly, microplastics exist mostly in seafood, especially in shellfish. So, probably choose shellfish that is from relatively clean and known sources. Moreover, the best way to avoid microplastics is to stop the source of microplastics which is all sorts of plastic products. We can reduce the usage of plastic bags, takeaway containers or other plastic products. We are protecting not only the environment but also ourselves by reducing plastic usage.