You might have ditched the coffee for tea thinking it might be better for you – but new research has revealed some teabags could be releasing billions of microplastics – far more than you ingest annually in one single cup – and you are drinking all of of them.
Researchers at McGill University in Canada tested plastic tea bags in a cup off nearly boiling water (95 degrees) and found that a stunning 11.6bn microplastics and 3.1bn even smaller nano plastics were released into the cup.
That’s more than the average person ingests every year!
Tea is one of the most consumed beverages in the world – estimated to be in 80% of American households (and 100% of Irish households!). Irish people are the second biggest consumers of tea in the world beaten only by Turkey. The UK ranks third.
The research, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, studied four different types of plastic tea bags bought in cafes and shops in Montreal, Canada. After cutting open the bags and washing them, the tea was then studied under powerful electron microscopes. The composition of the released particles was matched to the original teabags (nylon and polyethylene terephthalate).
Plastic is still used in tea bags in Ireland with Barry’s Tea (the only major brand of tea produced in Ireland) saying it was working to remove plastic from its tea bags. Polypropylene is used to make tea bags retain their ‘shape’ and makes the bag non-compostable.
Lyon’s Tea, owned by Unilever and produced in the UK, said it would remove plastic from its tea bags last year after a petition of more than 200,000 people called on them to act.
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles ranging in size from 100nm to 5mm. They have been found in the sea, drinking water, food, air, the soil and even in human excrement. They are everywhere at this stage, having been found in the deepest oceans causing untold damage at a molecular level to the planet and all living things.
Not only did the researchers in Montreal find the microplastics in tea, they also exposed some water fleas to the tea afterwards – and the fleas exhibited behavioural and development malformations.
The high number of plastic particles released from tea bags could be due to the high temperature of the water – many of these plastics are known to start leaching at temperatures around 30-40 degrees.