Plastic teabags found to leave behind remnants of plastic

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Researchers discovered this phenomenon despite consumers’ actions to reduce their plastic use

Being more eco-friendly and reducing plastic pollution has become popular among companies and corporations, but researchers from the American Chemical Society say that one industry is going in the opposite direction -- and it could be hurting consumers’ health. 

The research says that companies that produce tea bags are starting to move away from the standard paper tea bags to a plastic version. However, they say that these new tea bags are leaving microplastic particles floating in the tea.

What to expect from plastic teabags

The researchers conducted a two-part study to determine how plastic tea bags are affecting consumers’ tea-drinking experience. 

Testing four different kinds of tea, the researchers brewed the plastic tea bags in hot water after removing the tea to ensure that whatever debris was left behind was coming strictly from the plastic tea bag. 

While this test was designed to see what kinds of particles the plastic tea bags were leaving behind, the researchers conducted another trial on water fleas to determine if consuming the residue from the plastic tea bags led to any kind of physical or behavioral differences. 

At the end of the first study, the researchers found that the plastic teabags left behind millions of tiny particles. The figures were exponentially higher than any other food or drink that had previously been tested. The team found that just one plastic teabag could leave behind over 11.5 million microplastic particles and over three billion nanoplastic particles, all of which consumers would drink with their tea. 

No studies have currently been done to see what effect these particles have on humans, but when looking at the water fleas, the researchers learned that there were changes in their physical anatomy and their behavior. They hope to conduct more research to see what effect these particles are having on consumers’ health.

A shift away from plastic

Early last year, researchers discovered that consumers were ingesting these tiny particles of plastic when drinking from plastic water bottles, following a test of nearly 260 different brands. 

However, more recently, companies have taken the initiative to reduce how often they purchase or utilize single-use plastic items. 

Companies like KFC, Whole Foods, and Starbucks all pledged to reduce their plastic use in their stores, while the city of Seattle has banned plastic straws and utensils and New York has pledged to no longer freely give out plastic bags by 2020. 

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