The Dangers Of Microplastics In Tea Bags
We have been drinking tea since it was first discovered in 2700 BC, making it one of the oldest beverages in the world. But still to this day, tea is the world’s obsession. It’s actually the second most popular drink in the world, just behind water. This ancient brew has been loved for centuries and is steeped in a variety of traditional methods around the globe, but also stateside.
Over 159 million Americans drink tea every day. That is a heck ton of tea, but honestly, it’s easy to see why - there are so many reasons to drink and love tea.
There are over 2500 varieties of tea, each with its own unique flavorful characteristics. Tea can fit every mood and vibe - whether you want to unwind, release stress, relax or indulge in a healthy drink, tea is the go-to beverage. Tea is literally like a cup of delicious zen.
And we haven’t even mentioned all the incredible physical health benefits tea provides. Regularly drinking tea has some incredible amazing lasting impact on our physical wellness. Numerous studies back the abilities of tea to fight off inflammation, safeguard our immune system, and even potentially reduce our risk of cancer.
These benefits for our mind, body, and soul are just too amazing to be ignored. Tea has been considered a miracle drink that most people adore, so it's no wonder why us humans have been endlessly sipping on herbs for centuries.
But before you rush to brew yourself your next cuppa tea… are you aware that you could be drinking plastic? Yep, all those calming tea vibes are crushed when you realize that your cup of zen could be significantly participating in harming you and our planet, filled with millions of particles of microplastic.
Do teabags contain plastic?
When you grab a tea bag and go to brew yourself a cup of your favorite tea, plastic probably isn’t something you consider. However, around a quarter of every tea bag (from most tea brands) contains plastic.
It may be hard to believe when we see cute, earthy-toned tea boxes and the word ‘natural herbs’ slapped on the packaging. We just automatically assume everything about the tea we’re buying is ‘natural’ and sustainable. We don’t exactly imagine millions of microplastic particles floating around in our cup of tea.
Tea is a growing industry that has only led to a long-term increase in fake advertising and unsustainable practices. While loose leaf tea is growing in popularity, still a whopping 96% of tea-drinkers choose tea bags rather than tea leaves. This means most of us could be drinking plastic. Why?
Well, researchers at McGill University in Montreal found that a surprising amount of premium tea bags shed extremely high levels of microplastics into your tea water. A report stated that just one single plastic tea bag can release 11 billion micro-sized plastic particles and 3 billion nano-sized plastic particles into hot water (around 95 degrees).
These tiny particles are so small that they’re invisible to the naked eye, making it practically impossible for you to spot them in your teacup at home. The study found that the number of particles released from teabags can be “several orders of magnitude higher than plastic loads previously reported in other foods”.
With around 3.8 billion gallons of tea consumed a year here in the United States, that is a lot of plastic consumed and released into our bodies and eco-system.
Why are microplastics in tea bags?
Why do teabags contain plastic, to begin with?
I know you’re probably wondering why teabags contain plastic in the first place if they’ll release micro-plastics into our tea, plus, tea bag packaging just looks like paper and string. Well, polypropylene (a type of plastic) is used for sealing many tea bags.
Moreover, the same research from McGill University also discovered that some tea bag packaging leaks plastic particles not only from sealing but from the very fabric of the bag.
To help keep the tea bags shape in hot liquid, many manufacturers also add polypropylene to the bag itself. For this reason, most tea bags contain up to 25% plastic!
The amount varies among companies and may seem minimal — but quickly adds up when we remember that a single plastic tea bag can add around 11 billion micro-sized plastic particles into your cuppa and isn’t even recyclable or biodegradable. This means it’ll contribute to plastic pollution even when you place your teabag into a compost heap, as it won’t break down completely.
Are microplastics in tea bags dangerous? Should you be worried?
Microplastics are small debris made of synthetic polymers that are less than five millimeters long. They make their way into the air and water, which can be very harmful to our aquatic life and ecosystem.
Some findings have found that exposure to microplastics may lead some organisms to reproduce less effectively or suffer physical damage. In some organisms, especially fish, microplastics have been shown to have a negative effect on their immune system and could possibly cause damage to cells.
Furthermore, information from the UN Environment Programme said this: “the surfaces of tiny fragments of plastic may carry disease-causing organisms and act as a vector for diseases in the environment. Microplastics can also interact with soil fauna, affecting their health and soil functions.”
What does this mean for tea bags microplastics effect on human health?
Currently, while there is plenty of worrisome evidence proving the dangers of microplastics on our environment, there isn’t much scientific research done just yet, on how they can cause harm to human beings. Most of the research conducted with microplastics surrounds ocean life.
However, there are some scary possible risks:
“Because microplastics are associated with chemicals from manufacturing and that sorb from the surrounding environment, there is concern regarding physical and chemical toxicity. Evidence regarding microplastic toxicity and epidemiology is emerging” (1)
Ongoing research is currently analyzing whether these plastic chemicals leach out in a significant portion, large enough to have a health effect on our bodies.
Research published in the National Library of Medicine, suggested that the inhalation or ingestion of microplastics can accumulate and cause toxicity build-up, damaging our gut microbiome. Furthermore, a report found that over 140 hazardous chemicals or chemical groups are used in many plastics. Although it’s unclear how far the effects extend and what level of microplastics you’d need to consume to experience health effects.
Regardless, if aquatic animals are harmed by ingesting plastics, there is a very real likelihood that microplastics could do the same thing to humans.
Research showing the effects plastic has on humans is only just emerging. And the thing is, we know plastics are synthetic and can carry disease-causing organisms and harmful chemicals, so reducing our exposure, especially when plastic is so prevalent, is important.
What should you do about tea bags?
There may not be a ton of solid evidence yet, but the hazardous dangers of microplastics are very real, especially when we consider all the research gaps and damage plastic has caused to sea animals. Now, these concerns don’t mean you need to skip your favorite beverage.
Tea is an incredibly healthy and vital drink that provides a plethora of phytonutrients and other health-giving properties, and you do not have to give it up just because of the plastic industry. All you need to do is avoid plastic tea bags and stick to biodegradable and paper tea bags or loose-leaf tea.
Now making the switch to plastic-free tea bags can be a little tricky at first - considering a lot of tea companies avoid labeling whether or not their tea bags are plastic or paper, and because many tea manufacturers object to non-plastic bags and disapprove of the cost to implement them. However, if you ask us, protecting human and environmental health, is worth the cost.
Why we chose to use non-GMO, plastic-free, and plant-based tea bags!
Due to the health concerns from the plastic content and its lack of biodegradability, making plastic tea bags not just a bad option for composting, the environment, and very possibly the human body, here at Wise Ape we prioritize the quality and ethics of our tea bags.
Not only do we source high-quality whole leaf ingredients, and donate 10% of our profits to impactful non-profit organizations, but also don’t want our customers to worry about plastic leaching into their tea. So, at Wise Ape tea, our tea bags are completely plant-based, biodegradable, good for the environment, compostable, and without negative impact on personal health.
The tea bags we use for our Wise Ape tea blends are a special all-natural sachet made without the use of plastics, glues, or other funky chemicals. The pyramid shape allows ample space for our whole leaf ingredients to expand as they steep, infusing your cuppa with maximum flavor and herbal wellness.
Our bags are made from DNA-free and renewable plant-based material called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is made by breaking down plant-based starches and the importance of leaving no plant DNA behind is that it leaves our bags hypoallergenic and allergen-free. They are sealed with ultrasound instead of plastic glues and are fully biodegradable but won’t break down in your cup of tea. So, nothing from the bag leaching into your cuppa tea.
Pretty incredible right?!
If you’re ready to start drinking plastic-free tea, here at Wise Ape Tea, we combine premium tea with adaptogenic herbs, crafted to create bright, flavorful organic wellness-driven tea combos. This is the evolution of tea.
WHAT DOES SUSTAINABILITY MEAN TO YOU? ARE YOU EXCITED TO TRY OUR TEA BLENDS?
This informative article is written, by Sophia McKenzie. Sophia is head content creator and writer, for several premium websites, where her expertise lies in health, nutrition, and wellness. Her content focuses on providing and sharing doable solutions to help people truly thrive and live their happiest, healthiest, fulfilled lives.