Are you one of the 159 million Americans who enjoyed a cup of tea today? (1) If you are, it might surprise you that your cup of tea might be contaminated with plastic. You probably never wondered, “is my tea safe?” You just assumed it was. We think we can easily spot where the plastics are in our everyday lives but that’s not always the case. We are ingesting thousands of microplastics and there could be plastic in your tea. It’s not contaminated tea leaves that are the problem, but many manufacturers actually use plastic in their tea bags! I don’t know about you, but plastic is not my cup of tea.

The Research and Is My Tea Safe?

Do you wonder what happens when you put a plastic tea bag in a mug of hot water and let it steep for a few minutes? You are not the only one to ask, “is my tea safe?” A recent study from McGill University asked that question too! Too bad manufacturers didn’t ask the same question before deciding using plastics in tea bags was a good idea. Luckily, researchers drink tea too.

To find out how much plastic was released from a tea bag during brewing, they took four commercial tea bags that were made with plastic and removed the tea so it would not interfere with their results. They then placed the empty tea bags in water at brewing temperature. They found a single tea bag released 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the water. (2) That’s a lot of plastic.

If you read our article on microplastics, you might remember that a study estimated that the average person is ingesting 5 grams of plastic a week. (3) That’s about as much plastic as a credit card. This study shows the number of microplastics in a cup of tea brewed with a plastic tea bag are thousands of times higher than reported in other foods! (2) It’s more plastic than commonly found in bottled water. So, imagine how many credit cards you are ingesting if you are a regular tea drinker!

What Are the Long-term Effects of Ingesting Plastic in Tea?

We don’t know what the long-term effects of a gut full of plastic will be, but we know that they aren’t good. Many plastics are known endocrine disruptors. They mimic the hormone estrogen, which is one of the many chemical messengers in your body that signal for physical responses. When your hormones are thrown off by these endocrine disruptors it can cause numerous problems. These plastic chemicals have been connected to breast cancer, testicular cancer, infertility, obesity, developmental issues, and the studies have just begun. The long-term effects of drinking plastic in tea aren’t good.

Don’t Miss Out on Health Benefits of Tea

Don’t stop drinking tea to avoid plastic! A nice cup of organic tea is good for you and can be a tasty swap. Always choose organic because commercial coffees and teas are heavily sprayed with pesticides. When you choose organic there are lots of healthy benefits. Tea is full of antioxidants and can boost the immune system. Did you know that one study found drinking tea daily could reduce the incidence of flu by 40%? (4) Tea is good for your heart, lowers your risk of some cancers, is neuroprotective and the benefits go on.

How Do I Find Tea Bags Without Plastic?

Your next question will be, “How do I avoid tea with plastic or find tea bags without plastic?” The researchers did not reveal which brands they used when testing the release of plastic from tea bags so we can’t tell you which ones to skip. There are steps you can take to avoid plastic in tea. Do your research on your favorite tea companies to make sure your tea is safe. Common tea bags with plastic in them are the “silken” tea bags or the ones shaped like pyramids. They aren’t really silk. What?! They are often plastic.

Paper tea bags can be tricky. Be careful with them because they often use plastic to seal the paper tea bags shut. The easiest way is to find a plastic-free tea bag is to look for the words “fully compostable” and don’t just assume biodegradable is okay. Something can biodegrade and still leave a toxic residue. Some organic tea brands that have options without plastic are Newman’s Own, Clipper, Numi, and Rishi.

The simplest way to avoid plastic in your tea is to start using loose leaf teas. Loose leaf teas are teas that come in bulk that you can buy at your favorite grocery store or coffee shop. You then can use a reusable infuser to brew your tea. Many people will tell you that they taste better, and it is easier to brew the perfect cup of tea.

Enjoy Your Tea Without Plastic

There are so many health benefits to a good cup of organic tea and it can be a nice, cozy drink. Many people switch to tea when they are looking for healthy options. You shouldn’t have to worry about, “is my tea safe or is it full of plastic?” By knowing the dangers of many commercial teas and finding other ways to avoid ingesting microplastics, you can spot how to avoid them because… let’s be real – plastic is no one’s cup of tea.

Plastics in Tea Resources:

http://www.teausa.com/14655/tea-fact-sheet
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b02540
https://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/plastic_ingestion_web_spreads.pdf
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21832025