Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Plastic tea bags are releasing billions of microplastics into your tea

  • Written by  Helena Hosking
  • Published in Cultures
Plastic tea bags are releasing billions of microplastics into your tea
01 Oct
2019
Canadian researchers have found that plastic tea bags, common to premium tea brands, release billions of micro plastics and nano plastic particles

The global movement to wean off plastic has led to concerns about single-use plastic teabags, deeming them wasteful and potentially dangerous. New research by a team at at McGill University found that a teabag submerged in 95ºC water, released 11.6 billion units of microplastics and 3.1 billion smaller nanoplastic particles. The researchers are suggesting that contact with boiling water makes the teabags shed higher numbers of plastic particles or leach toxic substances.

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonIn these turbulent times, we’re committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

This quantity of microplastics is larger than the estimated amount consumed by a person over an entire year (50,000) and so the question remains as to whether the consumption of these plastics is harmful to the human body. Worryingly, when exposed to these levels of micro and nanoplastics, water fleas were noted to show anatomical and behavioural abnormalities. For a nation that consumes up to 60.2 billion cups of tea a year, this has caused concern and while there is as yet no evidence that the plastics affect human health, the United Nations has said more research is needed to fully understand the effect plastics have on the body.

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic created by the disintegration of plastic litter that are too small to be caught in water filtration. Microplastics have been found in the air, soil, rivers, oceans, as well as bottled water and seafood.

It is not only plastic tea bags that contain chemicals, 96 per cent of paper tea bags sold in the UK contain polypropylene – a chemical compound used to seal them. This non biodegradable heat sealant can make up 25 per cent of the bag.

A further concern being raised by recycling experts is for soil that gets littered with composted plastic teabags. By 2018, some brands such as the Co-op and PG Tips had already adopted 100 per cent compostable tea bags due to public pressures. While Lidl is exploring the option for biodegradable tea bags, Yorkshire Tea is aiming to switch to plant-based materials by the end of the year. The most eco-friendly tea however, remains loose leaf in a pot or cup.

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

Refugees

The Taliban’s recent takeover of Afghanistan prompted a new refugee…

I’m a Geographer

Rose Abramoff is a climate scientist who recently made headlines…

Development

Mark Rowe reflects on the changing nature of overseas aid and…

Cultures

The end of human-powered rickshaws has long been predicted in…

Explorers

The wreck of Endurance, Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition ship, has…

Cultures

Faizal Farook investigates the relationship between Britain’s diverse ethnic-minority communities…

Cultures

Following the shocking discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at…

Development

While the world debates the best ways to reduce emissions…

Cultures

The Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers on…

Cultures

A new caviar-production venture could transform Thailand into a major…

People

In cities around the world, the geography of homosexuality is…

Cultures

In Morocco, people don’t Uber. Instead, they pile into so-called…

Development

Oysters play a hugely important role in ecosystems by filtering…

People

Our Christmas Gift Guide is back for 2021, featuring eco-friendly,…

Cultures

Vitali Vitaliev takes a tour of the small town of Montreuil-sur-Mer…

Cultures

With the market for Muslim travellers growing at pace, holiday-makers…

Cultures

Three years ago, a violent storm devastated northern Italy’s iconic…

Explorers

Carnivorous-plant expert Mateusz Wrazidlo set out to fulfil his dearest…

Development

Genomics England are poised to a launch a pilot project…