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Just One Tea Bag Can Release Billions of Microscopic Plastic Particles Into Your Drink, Study Finds
McGill University chemical engineering professor Nathalie Tufenkji decided to test tea bags after she was given one in a Montreal cafe that looked like it was made from plastic.
"I said, 'Oh God, I'm sure if it's plastic it's, like, breaking down into the tea,'" she told CBC News.
So she asked her graduate student Laura Hernandez to purchase several tea bag brands from Montreal stores. The scientists then tested them to see if they left any plastic particles behind. The results, published in Environmental Science and Technology Wednesday, far surpassed the researchers' expectations.
"We were shocked when we saw billions of particles in a single cup of tea," Tufenkji told CBC News.
In total, the researchers found that steeping a plastic tea bag at 95 degrees Celsius released around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup. That's much more than other foods and beverages commonly contaminated with plastics, Tufenkji told New Scientist.
"We think that it is a lot when compared to other foods that contain microplastics," she said. "Table salt, which has a relatively high microplastic content, has been reported to contain approximately 0.005 micrograms plastic per gram salt. A cup of tea contains thousands of times greater mass of plastic, at 16 micrograms per cup."
Whether or not this is actually a problem for human health is uncertain. The World Health Organization concluded last month that plastic particles in drinking water were a "low" risk to humans at their current levels. But the report also said more research was needed, especially on the health impacts of chemical additives and of microplastics less than 150 micrometers in diameter, which could enter the body's tissues. Plastic tea bags are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and nylon, which are approved as food packaging, according to CBC News.
In order to assess their potential toxiciity, Tufenkji and her team did an initial test of how the plastic particles impacted water fleas.
"The particles did not kill the water fleas, but did cause significant behavioural effects and developmental malformations," Tufenkji told New Scientist.
More research would have to be done to assess the impact on human health, but Tufenkji said there were other reasons to skip plastic tea bags for paper bags or loose leaf tea.
"Personally, I would say avoid the plastic tea bags because it's just another single-use plastic," she told CBC News.
The kind to avoid are the fancier "silken" tea bags, which are sometimes pyramid shaped, according to CBC News.On average, between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic enter the world's oceans every year. Microplastics do pose a threat to marine life, as ocean creatures mistake them for food. They can also entangle tiny organisms like plankton or get caught in their digestive system, according to Jennifer Brandon of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.
- Microplastics Detected in Human Stool Samples for First Time ... ›
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- More Microplastics in Deep Sea Than Great Pacific Garbage Patch ... ›
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The supply chain that provides medical supplies to the world is favoring the U.S. and Europe, which are outbidding poorer nations for masks, gowns, gloves and ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic, according to NPR.
A garbage yard in Lucknow, India where plastic bottles are dumped before being sent to recycling. Abhimanyu Kumar Sharma / Moment / Getty Images
Scientists have engineered a mutant enzyme that converts 90 percent of plastic bottles back to pristine starting materials that can then be used to produce new high-quality bottles in just hours. The discovery could revolutionize the recycling industry, which currently saves about 30 percent of PET plastics from landfills, reported Science Magazine.
- Scientists Develop 'Infinitely' Recyclable Plastics Replacement ... ›
- Plastics: The History of an Ecological Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Find Bacteria That Eats Plastic - EcoWatch ›
Cabin fever is often associated with being cooped up on a rainy weekend or stuck inside during a winter blizzard.
In reality, though, it can actually occur anytime you feel isolated or disconnected from the outside world.
What is cabin fever?<p>In popular expressions, cabin fever is used to explain feeling bored or listless because you've been stuck inside for a few hours or days. But that's not the reality of the symptoms.</p><p>Instead, cabin fever is a series of negative emotions and distressing sensations people may face if they're isolated or feeling cut off from the world.</p><p>These feelings of isolation and loneliness are more likely in times of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/yes-covid-19-cases-are-rising-why-you-still-need-to-practice-social-distancing" target="_blank">social distancing</a>, self-quarantining during a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-a-pandemic" target="_blank">pandemic</a>, or sheltering in place because of severe weather.</p><p>Indeed, cabin fever can lead to a series of symptoms that can be difficult to manage without proper coping techniques.</p><p>Cabin fever isn't a recognized psychological disorder, but that doesn't mean the feelings aren't real. The distress is very real. It can make fulfilling the requirements of everyday life difficult.</p>
What are the symptoms?<p>Symptoms of cabin fever go far beyond feeling bored or "stuck" at home. They're rooted in an intense feeling of isolation and may include:</p><ul><li>restlessness</li><li>decreased motivation</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irritability" target="_blank">irritability</a></li><li>hopelessness</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/unable-to-concentrate" target="_blank">difficulty concentrating</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irregular-sleep-wake-syndrome" target="_blank">irregular sleep patterns</a>, including sleepiness or sleeplessness</li><li>difficulty waking up</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/lethargy" target="_blank">lethargy</a></li><li>distrust of people around you</li><li>lack of patience</li><li>persistent <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/depression-vs-sadness" target="_blank">sadness or depression<br></a></li></ul>
What can help you cope with cabin fever?<p>Because cabin fever isn't a recognized psychological condition, there's no standard "treatment." However, mental health professionals do recognize that the symptoms are very real.</p><p>The coping mechanism that works best for you will have a lot to do with your personal situation and the reason you're secluded in the first place.</p><p>Finding meaningful ways to engage your brain and occupy your time can help alleviate the distress and irritability that cabin fever brings.</p><p>The following ideas are a good place to start.</p>
When to get help<p>Cabin fever is often a fleeting feeling. You may feel irritable or frustrated for a few hours, but having a virtual chat with a friend or finding a task to distract your mind may help erase the frustrations you felt earlier.</p><p>Sometimes, however, the feelings may grow stronger, and no coping mechanisms may be able to successfully help you eliminate your feelings of isolation, sadness, or depression.</p><p>What's more, if your time indoors is prolonged by outside forces, like weather or extended shelter-in-place orders from your local government, feelings of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety" target="_blank">anxiety</a> and fear are valid.</p><p>In fact, anxiety may be at the root of some cabin fever symptoms. This may make symptoms worse.</p><p>If you feel that your symptoms are getting worse, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you're experiencing. Together, you can identify ways to overcome the feelings and anxiety.</p><p>Of course, if you're in isolation or practicing social distancing, you'll need to look for alternative means for seeing a mental health expert.</p><p>Telehealth options may be available to connect you with your therapist if you already have one. If you don't, reach out to your doctor for recommendations about mental health specialists who can connect with you online.</p><p>If you don't want to talk to a therapist, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/top-iphone-android-apps" target="_blank">smartphone apps for depression</a> may provide a complementary option for addressing your cabin fever symptoms.</p>
The bottom line<p>Isolation isn't a natural state for many people. We are, for the most part, social animals. We enjoy each other's company. That's what can make staying at home for extended periods of time difficult.</p><p>However, whether you're sheltering at home to avoid dangerous weather conditions or heeding the guidelines to help minimize the spread of a disease, staying at home is often an important thing we must do for ourselves and our communities.</p><p>If and when it's necessary, finding ways to engage your brain and occupy your time may help bat back cabin fever and the feelings of isolation and restlessness that often accompany it.</p>
Pope Francis spoke about the novel coronavirus, suggesting that the global pandemic might be one of nature's responses to the man-made climate crisis.