Tea Drinkers Beware: There May be Microplastics in Your Cup

For many years, the American practice of putting tea into little bags and brewing cups of tea one at a time has been excoriated by the British, who loved to ask if American tea was so weak that it needed to be bandaged. Now, they do it too.

The British may yet get the last laugh on this bad habit that we Americans have adopted because it now appears that you may be drinking microplastics along with your green tea.

Green tea is, of course, being touted for numerous health benefits, including reductions in LDL cholesterol, lower rates of cardiovascular disease, lowered risk for certain cancers and reductions in the incidence and severity of Type II Diabetes, weight loss and memory enhancements. (Some of the controversial benefits are based on anecdotal observations, while others have solid science behind them)

To get these benefits, you have to drink at least three cups of green tea per day but you may not want to brew your green tea – or any other tea – in tea bags because it now appears that some brands of tea are packaged in bags made with woven plastics.

In a new report issued today, ConsumerLab.com, a highly respected independent drug and supplement testing facility, warns that some brands of green tea are being distributed in bags made from woven plastics such as nylon cloth.

When steeped for five minutes at 203*F, one brand released more than 11 billion microplastic particles and three billion nanoplastic particles. Nanoplastic particles are less than 100 nanometers in size. One nanometer is ten times smaller than the width of a DNA chain. Microplastics are more than 100 nanometers but less than five millimeters.

Obviously, some of these particles are too small to be captured by even the finest screens in a filtration system and, given the properties of the plastics from which these materials are derived, they might not be filtered out even by a distillation process. Water molecules are  0.275 nanometers, and that’s much smaller than even a one nanometer size piece of plastic but, when water turns into steam during the distillation process, it could quite possibly carry one nanometer particles along with the steam into the cooling chamber of a water distillation system.

It turns out that some brands of black tea also use plastic fibers in their tea bags, but you’re going to have a hard time figuring out which bags are made from plastics and which aren’t because, with rare exceptions, the bags look very similar.

Most Tea purveyors do not specify the materials used to make their teabags. Celestial Seasonings doesn’t, nor does Twining’s, and they are two of the largest tea companies in the world today.

I found one company that is really serious about packaging their organic teas in an organic manner.  I lifted this description of their tea bag from their website:

“Numi’s commitment to the environment continues with their investment in eco-packaging. Each tea bag is fully compostable as it is non-GMO verified, oxygen whitened, and made from manila hemp cellulose, a plant fiber. The tea bag is then accompanied by a tag, made from 100% recyclable materials, and surrounded by a soy based ink printed overwrap that is made from 85% post-consumer recycled material and a small amount of foil, to retail freshness.”

I also discovered that you can actually buy Eco-Fil empty, organic tea bags and fill them yourself with whatever you want to fill them with. They cost $5 per 100 bags, and they are available online.  There are other brands listed at the bottom of the page for you to choose from. You can also use these things to brew instant coffee, and you might even try them with ground coffee.  (It really pisses me off that I have to send you to Amazon to get these things because the assholes at Amazon cancelled our seller account.)

Personally, since I am particularly fond of an exotic blend of Persian tea that doesn’t come in bags, I use my French Press coffee maker to brew tea…but the article about the microplastics in tea got me worried. Is my French Press plastic free?

I checked. I took it apart and held a flame to the screen…and it didn’t melt, so it isn’t plastic. The container is made of glass (there are some that are made of plastic), and all of the internal parts are made of what I thought was stainless steel.

It’s not stainless, however. Tea is more corrosive than coffee. When I took my French Press apart, I discovered that it was gummed up with tea residue and what looked like rust. I threw the affected parts into a bath of vinegar and salt, to be scrubbed and rinsed after the brine has done its work.

I thought I was home free, until I realized that there’s a strainer built into the top of the French Press and, of course, while there are some presses where that part is metal, the one I have made from plastic.

You can’t win them all.