Are you drinking plastic in your cuppa?

·3-min read

It’s a pantry staple many of us enjoy every day but you would be surprised to learn just one cup of tea contains an alarming amount of plastic.

Researchers at McGill University in Canada found that a single tea bag releases around 11.6 billion microplastic particles, and 3.1 billion even smaller nanoplastic particles, into the cup.

It’s to do with how a teabag is engineered. Manufacturers often use a plastic polymer called polypropylene to seal the bags and ensure they keep their shape in hot liquid.

Research shows a single tea bag releases around 11.6 billion microplastic particles. Source: Getty Images
Research shows a single tea bag releases around 11.6 billion microplastic particles. Source: Getty Images

“The reason why plastic is so widely used is because of its chemical stability, ironically the very reason that makes plastic so usable is also the reason why it is a threat to the environment,” Food Scientist Dr Vincent Candrawinata explained to Yahoo News Australia.

Dr Candrawinata warned the water we use to brew our tea also likely contains hundreds of tiny plastic particles.

Should I be worried about plastic in my tea?

Although the amounts of plastic are minimal, it can quickly add up.

It also means conventional tea bags cannot completely decompose, which is a problem for the environment and your health.

“There are two main reasons why nanoplastics are of concern: the abundance of it and the extremely small size of its particles,” Dr Candrawinata said.

“A single microplastic particle will break down into billions of nanoplastic particles, which are likely to cause nanoplastic pollution in the air, soil and water.”

He said while there are no definitive results on the health impacts, studies have suggested micro and nanoplastics, especially those of polystyrene type, can cause cellular inflammation and oxidative stress.

“The cells and tissues that can bear the brunt of these increased inflammation rates are lungs, livers and colon," Dr Candrawinata said.

"There are also studies that suggest changes in the hormonal system are caused by exposure to plastics.”

Microplastic Pollution Concept Source: Getty Images
Studies suggest that micro and nanoplastics can cause cellular inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Source:Getty Images

Dr Candrawinata explained this may lead to the development of degenerative diseases such as asthma, and the onset of allergies and cancers.

“This can be the reason why inflammation related conditions are more common nowadays and more and more we need to be watching what we eat and consume, as well as what we expose ourselves to, because simply ‘eating your greens’ is no longer enough to protect our body,” he said.

What can we do to avoid consuming plastic?

Dr Candrawinata said there is no need to panic but recommended actively avoiding plastic in our food and drinks where possible.

These are his suggestions:

  • Filtering your water is a simple and easy solution to reduce exposure to pollutants including plastic particles.

  • Make sure your containers and water bottles are BPA and phthalates free.

  • Take-away food or food packed with plastics can pose a risk. Use reusable coffee cups and food containers where possible.

  • Do not leave any plastic that comes in contact with your food or drinks exposed to sunlight for a prolonged time, as UV radiation causes the structure to breakdown at a micro and nano level.

  • When you microwave your food, try to use glass containers instead of plastic.

  • Regularly clean your house as vacuuming reduces the amount of pollutant particles.

It’s also recommended to do a quick search online on specific tea brands to check whether their bags are plastic free.

Two tea bags on a white background. Source: Getty Images
Tea manufacturers often use a plastic polymer called polypropylene to seal the bags and ensure they keep their shape in hot liquid. Source: Getty Images

And here’s a quick list from implasticfree.com on the most widely available plastic-free brands in Australia:

  • Dilmah Organic

  • Nature’s Cuppa Organic

  • Higher Living Teas

  • Pukka

  • Tetley

  • Lipton

  • Qi Tea

  • Harney & Sons

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