Plastic has become an incredibly harmful convenience, threatening environmental and human health alike, in more ways than one. Beyond the issue of bulk plastics lies the even bigger issue of microplastics — microscopic pieces of degraded plastic — which choke waterways across the globe and contaminate sea life, the food supply, drinking water and more. According to a recent study, plastic tea bags are playing a large role in the problem by shedding billions of microplastic shards into the water.
Researchers at McGill University in Canada took four different commercial tea bags and removed the tea inside them. They then placed them into boiling water to simulate the process of making tea. They discovered that a single bag of tea releases around 11.6 billion microplastic particles, on top of another 3.1 billion nonplastic particles that are even smaller.
Studies have shown that microplastics are now in soil, air, snow and even in your food. But the amount of plastic particles released by a single tea bag is thousands of times higher than any amount previously found by researchers in other food or drink. The suspicion that humans are consuming their own plastic pollution was recently reconfirmed when researchers discovered microplastic particles in human stool samples. It’s estimated that humans consume, on average, 5 grams of plastic each week — the equivalent of how much a plastic credit card weighs.
While researchers are still uncovering the health effects of microplastic consumption, studies have linked the plastic particles to altered microbiota, impaired metabolism and liver toxicity.
Our cultural affection for all things disposable has left a trail of destruction. Now, how can you be part of the solution? In short, by becoming a more conscious consumer. Avoid bottled water, reduce your use of all things plastic, avoid microfiber clothing such as fleece, recycle what you can and — stay far away from plastic tea bags.