While many people are doing their part in reducing plastic use, there are some tea manufacturers who are actually moving in the opposite direction. Some tea producers are replacing the traditional paper teabags with plastic teabags. A new study has found that those plastic teabags may come with a bit of micro and nano sized plastics which are shed from the bag. What is unknown at this time, is what possible effects on health could come from ingesting these particles
Plastics break down into tiny microplastics and even smaller nanoplastics over time. Nanoplastics are less then 100 nanometers in size which is less than the diameter of a human hair. Scientists have discovered these microscopic particles in aquatic organisms, in the environment and even in the food supply.
Microplastics are found everywhere. Much of our food is wrapped in plastic and often ends up in our food. It also leaches out into the environment. Plastics can end up in things like canned fish, sea salt, honey and chicken.
The study team wondered if these recently introduced plastic teabags could be releasing micro and nanoplastics into the tea during brewing. They also wanted to explore possible effects of the released particles on small aquatic organisms known as water fleas. These are model organisms commonly used in environmental studies.
To conduct the analysis, the team bought four different varieties of commercial teas which were packaged in plastic teabags. They opened the bags, removed the tea leaves then washed the empty bags. They then heated the plastic teabags in containers of water to stimulate the brewing conditions.
To ensure cutting the teabag did not influence the number of particles released, they also used several teabags that had not been emptied or rinsed out.
For each brand tested, three emptied teabags were placed in a clean, single glass vial and then steeped in 10 milliliters of 95 degree Celsius water for a period of five minutes. The teabags were then removed and the water poured into another clean glass container.
By using electron microscopy, the research team took images of the teabags both before and after steeping and their chemical composition analyzed. After brewing, the teabag water was fixed to silicon wafers and dried and Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis was used to count the particles.
They found that the teabags showed significant cracking and degradation after the steeping process. They found that just a single plastic teabag at a brewing temperature of 95 degrees Celsius released about 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the brewed water.
These levels are thousands of times higher than those that had been previously reported in other foods. Currently it is estimated that people consume over 74,000 particles of microplastics per year. According to the new study, there is almost 200,000 times that amount in a single cup of plastic teabag tea. The team estimated that a tea drinker would swallow 2.3 million micron sized and 14.7 billion submicron particles in a single cup of tea.
In a different experiment, the team treated water fleas with a variety of doses of the micro and nanoplastics from the teabags. The fleas survived, however they did show some behavioral and anatomical abnormalities.
More research is needed for scientists to determine if drinking tea laced with plastic could lead to negative health effects on people. Very little research has been conducted on human health and the toxicity of microplastics. If these products remain on the shelf, there needs to be a big push do conduct more toxicity tests.
To avoid the possibility, the best bet is to choose paper teabags or loose leaf tea. However, some paper teabags are reinforced with plastic so one needs to do their homework to insure they are purchasing 100% paper teabags.
To view the original scientific study click below