A new study shows that all-plastic tea bags release billions of particles into hot water.
Just when we thought (or hoped?) food manufacturers were moving away from plastic packaging, some tea companies are embracing it. There has been a subtle shift toward using all-plastic tea bags, rather than the conventional type that contains up to 25 percent plastic (still problematic). This change concerned researchers at McGill University in Montreal, who decided to investigate. Their study has just been published in the American Chemical Society's journal, Environmental Science & Technology.
Led by chemical engineering professor Nathalie Tufenkji, the researchers purchased four types of commercial teas packaged in plastic bags. They removed the tea leaves, rinsed the bags, then steeped them at 95F, which is typical tea-making temperature. What they found is alarming. From a McGill press release,
"Using electron microscopy, the team found that a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature released about 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the water. These levels were thousands of times higher than those reported previously in other foods."
The team then tested the effects of these particles on water fleas (Daphnia magna), tiny aquatic organisms. They dosed the fleas with differing quantities of the microplastic and nano plastic particles and found that, while the animals survived, "they did show some anatomical and behavioral abnormalities." The researchers say that more research is needed to determine whether or not humans experience similar side effects.
We do know, though, that humans are ingesting plastic through their food – as much as 5g per week, or equivalent to a credit card – and this is cause for concern mainly because of the chemicals that plastics contain. It's known that "the tiniest particles are capable of entering the bloodstream and lymphatic system, could affect immune response, and aid transmission of toxic chemicals." Many of these chemicals are hormone-disruptors, carcinogens, harmful to the liver and reproductive systems, and linked to obesity and developmental delays.
In other words, it's not something we should be messing around with. Buy your tea bags without plastic! Loose-leaf is the best way to go, not to mention the best tasting.