Skip to main content

Plastic in our tea bags, good or bad?

Invented around 1908, it fundamentally changed our drinking habits - the teabag.  But it wasn't actually 'invented.' The teabag was an accident rather than design.  A New York tea merchant, John Sullivan, started sending tea to customers in small silken packets for convenience.  Many of his customers, thinking they were intended to be convenient infusions, placed them in their teapot.  The teabag was born. 

Sullivan went on to make the bags from gauze, making them more suitable for infusion, and their use swept across the USA.  In 1953, Tetley introduced the teabag to tea drinkers in the United Kingdom, where now they are used in 96% of tea consumption.  So, what are they? 

Here the story is both environmentally good and potentially bad. Not all tea bags are made of the same stuff. 

Many tea bags are made with added plastic, which is neither biodegradable nor recyclable.  Some types of teabag leak millions of plastic particles into our drinks, not only from the sealing plastic but from the bag itself.  Research has found that one plastic tea bag releases around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion smaller nano plastic particles into your cup of tea! 

In 2019, the magazine Country Living surveyed brands that did or did not use plastic.  As of July 2019, major brands such as PG Tips, Tetley, Twinings 'heat-sealed' and 'string and tag' ranges, Yorkshire Tea, Lidl own brand used plastic.  Among those that did not were Abel and Cole, Clipper, Co-op 99, Pukka herbs, Teapigs, Twinings pyramid range, and Waitrose Dutchy. 


Suppliers respond by saying that there are no known ill-effects from ingesting what amounts to 60 micrograms – 60 millionths of a gram of plastic released by teabags.   The truth is that it is too early to say whether there are potential harms. There is too little research on the outcome of the human intake of microplastics.  The main concern is that plastic's ingredients or toxic chemicals absorbed by plastics may build up over time and stay in the environment. Plastics can act like a sponge, absorbing and concentrating toxins from the environment.  Pesticide residues can cling to microplastic particles, and nano plastics can be absorbed through the gut.  If this is so, then microplastics may act as piggyback carriers for toxins. 

Environmental scientists warn that as plastic particles degrade to ever-smaller sizes in the environment, they present an increasingly higher potential for environmental toxicity.  

Microplastics are all around us, in our water supply, and even in the air that we breathe. It is not yet clear if this is harmful or not.  Each year, humans produce around 400 million tons of plastic worldwide. A significant proportion of this plastic ends up in the environment as litter, and most types of plastic take several hundred years to degrade completely.  As this degrades, it will release a massive amount of additional microplastic to the environment.  Will this be yet another catastrophic made-made disaster for our planet? To adopt a 'wait and see' approach would be foolish.  


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

A time for every purpose

All life moves. Or, more precisely, all life moves purposefully.  This is true even for trees and plants.  Movement is essential for maintaining life.  Animals migrate; plants disperse.  Some form of migration is an ingredient of all life.  For many organisms, it is a key function of reproduction.  We don't reproduce merely to create a new organism, but also to disperse the population - finding new fertile ground, or resources. Reproduction is a form of migration. Reproduction isn't merely to replicate. Reproduction produces change and diversity.  While we may have strong resemblences in families, we also have differences.  Creating a difference is how evolution works.  In this sense, nature is a continuous exploratory process, finding what works best.  Nature senses change and responds.  Some of this is immediate and physiological or behavioural; some of it is over generations.  If we look at a forest over long periods of time, we would see that it shifts. There is a movement

Noise pollution puts nature at risk

 "I just want a bit of peace and quiet!" Let's get away from all the hustle and bustle; the sound of endless traffic on the roads, of the trains on the railway, and the planes in the sky; the incessant drone; the noise. We live in a world of man-made noise; screeching, bellowing, on-and-on in an unmelodious cacophony.  This constant background noise has now become a significant health hazard.   With average background levels of 60 decibels, those who live in cities are often exposed to noise over 85 decibels, enough to cause significant hearing loss over time.  It causes stress, high blood pressure, headache and loss of sleep and poor health and well-being.   In nature, noise has content and significance.  From the roar of the lion, the laughing of a hyena,  communication is essential for life; as the warning of danger, for bonding as a group or a pair, finding a mate, or for establishing a position in a hierarchy - chattering works.  Staying in touch is vital to working