As I got up this morning and stumbled to the kettle, my mom summoned me over to hear some news report on the tv. A new study by Environmental Science & Technology came out claiming that plastic tea bags releases millions of micro- and nano-plastic pieces into your tea. Interestingly enough, many tea fanatics are probably not surprised in the least. But let’s take a closer look at what this study actually states and its implications.
This study came about when a professor of Chemical Engineering, Nathalie Tufenkji, went to get a tea from a local cafe and was alarmed to find the tea bag to be made of plastic. Immediately, she started thinking of all the implications that brewing plastic in hot water could bring and knew right away that she needed to research this further.
She then went about getting her students to buy different varieties of pre-packaged tea and brought them back to her lab. From there, she emptied the bags completely of tea and then brewed the empty sachets in 203 degrees Fahrenheit (95 degrees Celcius) water. The entire group then brought out their microscopes (they actually had to use electron microscopes), and hoped for the best. The result?: “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 ” (Hernandez, 2019).
The offending material? A sachet made out of PET (Polyester) and nylon. This is considered a food-grade plastic, but I think this shows that way more testing needs to be considered before considering this to be “food-grade”. A better alternative would be to use different material tea bags like silk, cloth, plant-based tea bags, or paper. Or have fun and use metal, glass, or no infuser. I found two articles showing which brands have plastic-free tea bags and which ones are the worst offenders. The two article’s names are Which tea bags are free of plastic? and Plastic-Free tea bags: Which brands are and which aren’t?.
Another posing question is, “Will these little plastics hurt me?” and the answer is inconclusive. There is not enough research to really say whether these micro and nano plastics could actually harm us. However, the study does state that these plastics are small enough that there is a possibility of them seeping into our cells. But again, what does that mean? Many other articles actually say that many people already ingest millions even billions of micro and nano plastics daily from other sources whether they be in the food or in food packaging.
When hearing about this, I am glad to be using tea infusers made out of metals or glass. I do not know about you, but I would love for someone to do a study about hard or silicon plastic infusers and if any micro/nano plastic particles are being released when steeping. Anyways, be safe. Steep smart! Hopefully, major tea companies will see this study and start using better materials for the benefit of the consumer! What are your thoughts on this study? Let me know in the comments! Happy Brewing!
Epstein, Kayla. “These Tea Bags Release Billions of Plastic Particles into Your Brew, Study Shows.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Sept. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2019/09/27/these-tea-bags-release-billions-plastic-particles-into-your-brew-study-shows/.
Hernandez, Laura M., et al. “Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea.” Environmental Science & Technology, 2019, doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b02540.
staff, Science X. “Plastic Teabags Release Microscopic Particles into Tea.” Phys.org, Phys.org, 25 Sept. 2019, https://phys.org/news/2019-09-plastic-teabags-microscopic-particles-tea.html.