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.


8 Responses to “More than just tea in your tea bags”

  1. Hanwen Hou says:

    Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. Regarding your question, as I checked online, there are several filters that the company uses to purify drinking water. Although the filters are mainly designed to remove microorganisms, pores of filters such as nanofiltration filter or reverse osmosis filter are small enough for the removal of microplastics(which can be as small as 100nm). If you want more information about water treatment, check out this website. (https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/home-water-treatment/household_water_treatment.html)
    Having said that, we can never get away with these microplastics, they are in our table salt and our food, we need to reduce the usage of plastics to fix this problem! (hopefully)

  2. Hanwen Hou says:

    Thanks, it is something to keep in mind when you buy food and drinks.

  3. Hanwen Hou says:

    Thanks! Since these plastics are not going to decompose anytime soon, so all these plastics will come back to us eventually, we are protecting not only the environment but also ourselves.

  4. Hanwen Hou says:

    Thanks! I love drinking tea too, loose leaf tea is more time consuming to make but it may be better for your health!

  5. Wenjia LU says:

    I find your topic is really engagement because that I like using tea bag and I also have seen the news about microplastic on the internet. Than you for giving me a opportunity to learn about this. Do you know any further information about how to avoid the microplastic in water, will water filters work in this case?

  6. Daniel Fry says:

    This brings up a few questions about the way our food and drinks are packaged and how many other things we consume have potential dangers like this one.

  7. Gabriela Eder says:

    This is a really nice article! It is shocking that there is actually no way to escape the microplastics. That is why I absolutely agree with your point that we should all do our best to reduce our plastics consumption as much as possible, at least to counteract a further increase of microplastic.

  8. jellis1 says:

    I love myself a cup of tea, and I had no idea about plastic teabags!!! I have started using loose leaf strainers though, thankfully – very interesting and well written blog!!