Trick or Treat? Cup of Tea with Plastic? See Internet article below from Green Child Magazine

Recently, my husband’s daughter told me about tiny bits of plastic found in tea bags. I Googled the topic and found this on the Internet. I cut and pasted the entire article, including Comments. I am in the process of contacting the tea companies whose boxes sit on my shelves, but in the meantime I purchased some loose tea and may switch to making loose tea if I find my brands are a problem. Thus, the teas with plastic in their bags becomes a trick  instead of a treat!

There is also a short list near the end of the article with brands that are considered “safe.” (I have other brands to search.) When I complete my search, I hope to post the tea companies that respond to my query, but in the meantime, you can Google your brand and see what customer service says. If the tea is organic, it is probably safe, but I cannot be sure of that, because maybe only the tea itself is organic. One more food  issue to monitor!

     This is organic, loose leaf herbal tea. I plan to make a large batch and put the tea in the fridge to heat up when I want a cup.

Plastic in Tea Bags & How to Avoid It

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You’d probably be surprised to learn that most tea bags contain up to 25% plastic. In fact, we didn’t know about plastic in tea bags until we watched a viral BBC video about tea production in 2017.

This post was originally published in June 2018 and updated September 2019

Canadian researchers published a study in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Environmental Science and Technology which found that steeping a single plastic tea bag at brewing temperature releases about 11.6 billion minuscule particles known as “microplastics” and 3.1 billion “nanoplastics” into each cup (source).

Plastic in Tea Bags & How to Avoid It

“We think that it is a lot when compared to other foods that contain microplastics,” Nathalie Tufenkji of McGill University in Quebec, told The New Scientist. “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.”

A spot of tea… and some plastic?

When you look at a tea bag, plastic usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet about a quarter of each tea bag (from most brands) is comprised of this substance. You can watch how tea bags made (see it here) to see how plastic is incorporated.

WAIT – WHY IS PLASTIC IN TEA BAGS?

It may be hard to believe, but most brands of bagged tea contain plastic. With millions upon millions of cups consumed daily, this adds up to a lot of plastic.

So why is plastic in tea bags to begin with?

In order for the tea bags to seal up and keep their shape in hot liquid, a plastic polymer, namely polypropylene, must be added. Even though the amounts of plastic found in tea bags is minimal — and vary between manufacturers — it adds up to quite a bit when you look at the big picture.

Due to the plastic content, conventional tea bags cannot completely decompose. This makes them a bad option for compost material and the environment… not to mention your body!

Like most plastics, polypropylene is known to adversely affect the body’s endocrine system (source). And as we’ve covered many times, endocrine disruptors can lead to a plethora of health issues and other maladies that can become chronic conditions (source).

One would think making the switch to plastic-free tea bags would be easy, but many tea manufacturers protest that non-plastic bags would be too costly to implement.

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF TEA

The rich antioxidants (also called polyphenols) in green tea are extremely beneficial to the heart and brain. Tea is known to alleviate acne, bad breath, colds, stress, and prevent eye diseases like glaucoma. Although too much caffeinated tea can lead to a lack of sleep, just the right amount before bedtime is one of the many therapies that are recommended to put an end to raucous snores, leading to better overall sleep as well.

The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that, “Polyphenols contained in teas are classified as catechins. Green tea contains six primary catechin compounds: catechin, gallaogatechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and apigallocatechin gallate (also known as EGCG). EGCG is the most studied polyphenol component in green tea and the most active.”

“Green tea also contains alkaloids including caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. They provide green tea’s stimulant effects. L-theanine, an amino acid compound found in green tea, has been studied for its calming effects on the nervous system.”

HOW TO AVOID PLASTIC IN TEA

Although the bigger tea bag manufacturers seem hesitant to make the switch to plastic-free bags, you don’t have to wait to start drinking tea the safer and eco-friendly way.

CHOOSE LOOSE LEAF TEA

If you’ve used bagged tea because you thought loose leaf was too much trouble, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Organic loose leaf tea can be made just as conveniently and it’s typically more flavorful because the tea leaves haven’t been ground to dust to fit into a tiny plastic-riddled tea bag!

Many organic loose leaf tea brands come in easy to store tins or eco-friendly packaging.

Good Earth
Numi Organic Tea
Golden Moon Organic Tea
The Tao of Tea 

Loose leaf tea is a more economical choice since they are priced by weight while tea bags are priced per bag. You can also reuse loose leaf tea to make a second cup to cut expenses and waste. You can buy loose leaf tea in bulk. This involves as little waste and plastic contamination as possible, but loose leaf tea can also be purchased in cans or boxes if bulk is not an option for you.

HOW TO BREW LOOSE LEAF TEA WITHOUT PLASTIC

There are plenty of simple ways to avoid plastic tea bags. One way that probably doesn’t require any new kitchen purchases on your part is to boil water on the stove top and pour it into a mug of loose leaf tea. If you don’t want to drink tea leaves, strain it with a stainless steel strainer or a piece of cheese cloth you can wash and reuse.

A stainless steel tea infuser eliminates plastic contamination and the need for straining. Pour hot water into a tea mug and steep with loose leaf tea in the infuser for 3 to 5 minutes.

This electric kettle makes heating water extremely fast and easy.

This glass tea kettle comes with a stainless steel infuser. We add filtered water, turn on the gas stove, and add two teaspoons of loose leaf tea to the infuser as the water is heating. The process takes about 7 minutes from start to simmering in your favorite mug.

For Keurig users – Instead of buying single-use pods (10 billion of them end up in landfills each year) to brew tea in your Keurig, get a stainless steel refillable pod to use again and again. Simply scoop about two teaspoons of loose leaf tea (or coffee) into the pod and use your Keurig as usual. One of the Green Child team members used the same stainless cup for 8 years and it’s still in perfect condition.

CHOOSE BRANDS THAT DON’T USE PLASTIC IN THEIR TEA BAGS 

If you just really love brewing bagged tea, look for brands that don’t use plastic in their teabags. It’s hard to find a published list anywhere, but from the outreach we’ve done, here are some brands that have confirmed they do not use plastic in their string-and-tag teabags:

Clipper Tea – They announced on their website in 2018, “We are so proud to have launched the world’s first plastic-free, unbleached and non-GM pillow tea bags.”

Numi Organic Tea (made with natural hemp-based, unbleached filter-paper)

Pukka Herb teas – Their website states: “We use a simple stitch of organic cotton and a unique folding process. This means we don’t need to use polypropylene to hold our teabags together and our teabags are free from plastic. We were the first company to ever use organic strings to hold our teabags together without the need of a metal staple or polypropylene.”

Teapigs (we love their adorable packaging!)

Tea Tonic

Nature’s Cuppa

You can also grow tea leaves yourself. Some of the herbs used to make tea are fairly easy to care for, and knowing where your tea leaves are coming from can give you that extra sense that what you’re drinking is healthy.

TRY TEA CRYSTALS

You can skip the brewing process altogether with Pique Tea crystals (find them at Pique’s website or on Amazon). Mix them in either cold or hot water – and watch them dissolve with no tea bag required – for a delicious tea that is loaded with beneficial polyphenols

Their unique teas are composed of supercharged 100% organic tea crystals, which are Cold Brew Crystallized, meaning they deliver maximum antioxidant capacity – 6x the antioxidants of tea bags and 20x the antioxidants of bottled tea. Plus you’ll find no preservatives, sugar, or additives in these tiny, but powerful little packets.

Some of our favorites are the Organic Jasmine Green Tea, White Peony, Organic Earl Grey, and we’re totally loving this huge selection of their Herbal Gut Health Accelerator Bundle.

Tea crystals from Pique are concentrated and deliver 12X the antioxidants of other teas. Plus they are triple toxin screened for pesticides, heavy metals and mold so it’s safe to drink every day. They also screen their teas for pesticides, heavy metals, and mycotoxins (toxic mold).

There are plenty of options that can give you the tea you love while also protecting the environment and your health. That way you can enjoy the numerous health benefits of tea without any of the side effects of plastic.

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Since 2010, Green Child has published a digital magazine devoted to natural parenting and conscious living. Hailed as “good for a green mama’s soul,” Green Child has grown into a resource valued by parents who care about bringing simplicity, compassion, social responsibility, and instinctual intelligence back to parenting.
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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Nan says

    Hi .. a recent study done here in Canada revealed much about the teas we are drinking… in this particular study the concern centered around the use of pesticides in tea. the only tea which passed the test was made by Red Rose and that is the one I drink. To have a look at this study , please go to
    https://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/blog/full-tea-test-results .

    Now I am reading about the plastic concern, and all this is very troubling. Red Rose may indeed be Plastic free as well, and I will be phoning them tomorrow to find out the answer. In the meantime , I am hoping just cutting open my tea bags , using the loose contents, and straining , will be the answer for me.
    Thank you for this article.

    • SW says

      Hi Nan, This is months after your post but I found out years ago Red Rose Tea bags are made with polypropylene. I had contacted them to see if they made tea bags without staples (they staple string to tea bag for dipping) so I could drop them in my compost pile w/o having to remove the staples. Customer service responded to me that I shouldn’t use their tea bags for compost because they contained polypropylene. I’ve since switched to fresh tea and a metal tea infuser. I’m sure you’ve talked to Red Rose by now but wanted to add my comment just in case. Unfortunately, the bag’s materials weren’t published on the box at the time, maybe they are now.

  2. Britany says

    I’ve used plenty of tea bags and I’ve never had any trouble with them. I want to start making my own tea and tea bags but I thought about sealing them off my sewing the sides shut with needle and thread. Would using store bout tea bags really be harmful to the body? wouldnt it take years for the effects to finally start presenting themselves?

  3. Lynn Carmichael (Ms.) says

    No, there is no transparency, no pun intended, and no full disclosure, even at this late date, regarding the materials and compounds used in teabags, on the packaging. I give Red Rose credit for disclosing to you, but what a shock! If it’s too toxic for a compost heap, those teabags shouldn’t be infused in very hot water and the contents consumed!
    Tea consumption is finally coming under way overdue scrutiny; after all, it’s the second-most consumed beverage in the world!

  4. Veel says

    My question to the editor of this article:
    Can you still use the bagged tea by removing the leaves to transfer them to a steel or alternate infuser to make tea?
    Suggestions please for those who want to transfer from polytherene teabags.

    • Amity Hook-Sopko says

      Yes, I’ve done this with tea we’ve been gifted or after helping my mom transition out of her old brands. It’s a great way to keep from wasting tea. A slight downside is that the tea leaves have usually been ground up really small, so you may end up with a little more residue in the bottom of your mug.

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One Response to “Trick or Treat? Cup of Tea with Plastic? See Internet article below from Green Child Magazine”

  1. Coll Says:

    Wow! Have long been a loose tea user. Only other are Celestial Seasonings. Not only do we eat and drink plastics but we breathe them as not too long ago I heard on Living On Earth that there are micro plastics everywhere, especially from fleece clothing–most of my wardrobe! But what a proliferation of plastics we suffer! Soldier on, environmentalist ES!

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