Microplastics in Tea Bags: Tips for a Safer Brew

Microplastics have become a significant concern due to their widespread presence in the environment and potential long-term health risks. One surprising source of microplastics is tea bags. Before you brew your next cup, let’s discuss what you can do to ensure delicious and plastic-free tea.

What Are Microplastics and Why Are They Harmful?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, usually less than 5 millimeters, resulting from the breakdown of larger plastics or manufactured at that size for various applications. Nanoplastics are between 1 and 1,000 nanometers across. These particles have infiltrated many aspects of our lives, including our food and beverages. An article from The New England Journal of Medicine mentions that patients with carotid artery plaque in which microplastics and nanoplastics were detected had a higher risk of myocardial infarctions, stroke, and death.

A study published in Toxicological Sciences analyzed tissue samples from both human and dog testes and found microplastics in all of them. The chemicals released from these microplastics are believed to be linked to hormone disruptions and potentially declining sperm counts.

The health impacts of microplastic/nanoplastic ingestion are still being studied, but they have the potential to accumulate in the body over time, leading to long-term health problems such as fertility issues and cancers.

Why Are Microplastics in Tea Bags?

Some tea bags contain plastic, such as polypropylene, to seal the bags or to create the mesh filter. When these tea bags are steeped in hot water, they can release billions of microplastic particles.  A 2019 study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that a single plastic tea bag can release around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a cup of tea.

The issue is not the occasional cup, but rather long-term accumulation. There is no need to lose sleep over past tea ingestion, just do your best going forward to minimize unnecessary microplastic consumption.

Here are some practical tips to minimize your consumption of microplastics while brewing your next cup of tea:

1. Choose Loose Leaf Tea

The best option is simply switching to loose leaf tea and completely eliminating the risk of plastic contamination from tea bags. Use a stainless steel or ceramic infuser whenever possible. They come in all different styles. If you don’t want to use an infuser, brew tea the traditional way with a teapot and tea strainer.

2. Opt for Plastic-Free

Tea bags are practical, and we can’t always carry an infuser or teapot around. The good news is that not all tea bags have microplastics! Look for brands using plastic-free materials like cotton, hemp, or biodegradable substances. If the specific material is not listed on their website, check the packaging, or contact the brand directly for more information. It might take a few minutes to find this information, but it's worth the effort, especially for those go-to brands that you consume on a regular basis.

Here is a short list of the brands I’m familiar with that do not use plastic in their teabags:

  • Traditional Medicinals - Tea bags are made from a combination of wood pulp and abaca fiber. The tea bags are attached with food-grade aluminum staple wire to a raw cotton string and a paper tag.
  • Numi - Tea bags are made from biodegradable, unbleached manila hemp cellulose. The tag is made from 100% recycled materials and soy-based inks, and the strings are made from cotton.
  • Bigelow - Tea bags are made with paper derived from materials such as wood pulp and abaca fibers; they are sealed in foil packaging.

Don't hesitate to research your tea brands, or any brand you support, to ensure they are transparent about their materials, sourcing, and manufacturing processes. Many brands are already striving to do the best they can for their customers and the environment. As more information emerges about the harms of microplastics, other companies will likely follow suit, but it may take some time.

If you find other good options, please leave them in the comments!

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- Y

About the Author: Thanks for reading! Meet Yazeth, the founder of The Y&W Laboratory, an organic and cruelty-free natural skin care company. With a background in the clinical laboratory and extensive experience teaching health and wellness courses, her passion for holistic wellness led her to pursue additional training in natural skin care, aromatherapy, and herbal studies. If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to reach out!

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Disclaimer: Blog posts are meant for general informational purposes only and some will reflect author opinion. It is your responsibility to independently determine whether to use any of the information or content on this blog and assume any risk of injury that may result. Please consult with your physician prior to incorporating any recommendations. 

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