Spilling the tea on plastic consumption

tea, plastics
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New research shows that teabags brewed at 95°C release billions of microplastics and nanoplastics into your drink.

In recent years, there has been a rise in the social awareness of plastic pollution. Plastic can be found in our wildlife, our food and even our snow. There are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans.

The plastic crisis has sparked an awareness for single use plastics, influencing many people to move towards a polyethylene free lifestyle. However, when it comes to teabags, plastic isn’t just in the packaging.

Research conducted at McGill University shows that a teabag, once brewed at 95°C, will release billions of microplastics and nanoplastics into the drink. The health implications of ingesting microplastics are still unknown as researchers push for further investigation on the matter.

The study published in Environmental Sciences and Technology, was conducted by Laura M. Hernandez, Elvis Genbo Xu, Hans C. E. Larsson, Rui Tahara, Vimal B. Maisuria and Nathalie Tufenkji. The research undertaken by the American Chemical Society, stated: “The increasing presence of micro- and nano-sized plastics in the environment and food chain is of growing concern. Although mindful consumers are promoting the reduction of single-use plastics, some manufacturers are creating new plastic packaging to replace traditional paper uses, such as plastic teabags. The objective of this study was to determine whether plastic teabags could release microplastics and/or nanoplastics during a typical steeping process.

“We show that steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage. The composition of the released particles is matched to the original teabags (nylon and polyethylene terephthalate) using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). The levels of nylon and polyethylene terephthalate particles released from the teabag packaging are several orders of magnitude higher than plastic loads previously reported in other foods. An initial acute invertebrate toxicity assessment shows that exposure to only the particles released from the teabags caused dose-dependent behavioural and developmental effects.”

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