So, if you are curious why a tea bag is not good for you and for the environment, keep on reading this article!
What is a tea bag and what is its composition?
A tea bag is usually understood as a little, porous sack or container utilized to steep tea leaves. In most cases, tea bags are sold in two types: (1) They may be sealed and filled with tea leaves, or (2) they may be empty and open so that you can fill them with tea leaves of your choice. In addition to that, most, if not all, bleached or unbleached cotton string is also attached to the tea bags to allow drinkers to remove them more easily from the brewing vessel. If this is the case, at the end of the string, a small piece of paper or a paper tag bears the company producer’s name and the type of tea leaves in the teabag.
Generally, tea bags are constructed from filter paper, cotton muslin, or food-grade plastic, usually composed of nylon of PLA (Polylactic Acid) without additives or Soilon mesh. These tea bags are then sealed using a food-grade glue, staple, or nothing, which means that the bag is just folded shut or secured only with heat or ultrasound.
For most tea bags sold in the market, filter paper is commonly used as a default tea bag material. Filter paper is used as default because it is considered less toxic and safer than other tea bag materials. On the other hand, food-grade plastics, also known as silken tea bags, are made from different plastics. These tea bags are semi-transparent; hence leaves, spices, flowers, and other ingredients are visible inside the teabag. In addition, food-grade plastics are also utilized to produce tea bags shaped like pyramids. This pyramid-shaped tea bag is ideal because it allows a better infusion of tea compared to other shapes of teabags.
So, Why is Tea Bag Bad?
Now that you are familiar with what tea bags are and its composition, it is now time to understand why it may be harmful for you and the environment. Here are some reasons why:
Thinking about it, a cup of tea does provide the warmth and dose of caffeine that you need to keep you up the day. However, did you know that a study conducted by Hernandez et al. in 2019 has shown that your daily dose of tea from your favorite tea bags may release billions of microplastic and nanoplastics into your cup? Now, that is one of the first reasons your tea bag is bad for your health!
Researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, demonstrated that a plastic tea bag releases approximately 11 billion microparticles and about 3 billion nanoparticles into water that has been heated up to 95 degrees Celsius. These plastic particles were discovered utilizing electron microscopy.
These studies are important because they reveal that about 16 micrograms of plastic are present in every cup of tea. However, both studies above were conducted in tea bags made of plastics. The tea bags used were sold in the market with a usual pyramid-shaped form.
Researchers then studied the impact of these microplastics in animals, specifically in a small aquatic organism known as Daphnia magna or water fleas. Their research showed that these animals had altered swimming capacity and deformities in their feeding and body shape.
Although the findings in the study noted above are still controversial and still need further research regarding the impact on human health, These studies can still be considered to help you reconsider your decision when drinking tea from a teabag.
Harmful for the environment
As has been stated above, tea bags can produce billions of microplastics. Because these tea bags are made using plastic, it would take a significant amount of time before decomposition could occur. This difficulty in decomposing such material can pose a threat to the environment. In fact, according to the Environmental Audit Committee, tea bags are considered a major source of pollutants in several water bodies due to their plastic components. Furthermore, according to the study conducted by Alabi et al. in 2019, different forms of plastics utilized to manufacture several consumable products can pose significant environmental threats. Hence, if you do not want to contribute to the increasing ecological problem, choosing other alternatives when drinking tea instead of using tea bags is better.
Have harmful chemicals, especially those that are Chlorine-bleached.
Due to the increasing research on how plastics, micro, and nano-sized plastic particles, in particular, can impact human health and the environment, most tea bags today are primarily made from paper made from a combination of vegetable fibers and wood materials. The wood component comprises cellulose fibers, lignin fibers, and other small extracted organic substances. However, lignin and other elements must be removed to produce white paper out of these wood and fibrous materials. One of the ways to do it is through pulp cooking which eliminates most of the lignin, and bleaching, which eradicates other remaining lignin. Hence, some tea bags in the market are still chlorine-bleached to make them white. This bleaching can produce minute amounts of toxic chlorine compounds in tea bag papers.
Due to bleaching, harmful chemicals can be present in tea bag papers. These chlorine products are proven to increase the risk of developing diseases. According to research, these compounds, such as Dioxin, can remain in the body for about 11 years. These chlorine products can produce cognitive, developmental, and behavioral disorders, loss of reproductive abilities, endometriosis, congenital disabilities, and impaired immunity.
Nowadays, due to the increased awareness of consumers regarding the risks of using chlorine-bleached tea bags, more companies are now selling teas that are oxygen-bleached instead. So with that, if you are doubtful if your tea bag is bleached or not, it is better to ask the manufacturer about it or use loose leaves instead.
Paper tea bags can contain potential carcinogens in the form of Epichlorohydrin.
Most paper tea bags contain Epichlorohydrin. The compound Epichlorohydrin is added to paper tea bags to make them more sturdy and prevent the paper from falling apart easily. However, adding strength to these paper tea bags comes with a compromise – Epichlorohydrin makes paper tea bags more toxic.
Research has shown that increased levels of Epichlorohydrin increase the risk of cancer in animal studies. In fact, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States of America, Epichlorohydrin is considered a potential carcinogen. Although lacking evidence that it causes cancer in human studies, the compound should still be regarded as carcinogenic to man because it causes cancer to animals.
The toxicity brought about by Epichlorohydrin’s active substance named 3-MCPD. This substance is produced when Epichlorohydrin is exposed to water. The 3-MCPD is linked to being responsible for making cancer-causing effects in animal studies.
Besides cancer-causing effects, Epichlorohydrin has also been associated with infertility in animal studies and dysfunctional immune function. It is considered a contaminant with modern production and preparation of food.
Also, good to note that Epichlorohydrin is utilized in several products, including textiles, inks, epoxy resins, dyes, rubbers, and many more. It is also used in other beverage-related products, including coffee and water filters. The substance is also used as a pesticide. So, Epichlorohydrin is not ideal for you to consume the substance!
So, now that you know the risks these tea bags pose, what do you do to overcome such issues?
Well, to put it simply, stay away from tea bags made of plastics! Just like stated above, studies have already proven that these tea bags can produce billions of micro and nanoplastics. With that, opt for tea bags that are plastic-free, organic, and biodegradable. You can also utilize tea bags made with purely plant-based materials. It is also crucial to ensure that you buy tea bags free of Epichlorohydrin and chlorine bleaching.
If you have a hard time looking for safe tea bags that do not come with potentially toxic ingredients, go for purchasing loose tea leaves instead. These easy-to-use, organic, and natural tea sources are safer than tea bags. Utilizing loose tea leaves and going back to traditional ways of brewing and steeping teas can not only reduce your risks of being exposed to pollutants but can also help you maximally reap the health benefits of drinking tea.
Teabags are considered to be a quick and convenient way of producing tea, so it is expected that you may have a harder time preparing and drinking loose leaf tea leaves at first. However, if you become more accustomed to drinking loose leaf teas, you will realize that it is safer, more enjoyable, and just so much better!
- Alabi OA, Ologbonjaye KI, Awosolu O, Alalade OE (2019) Public and Environmental Health Effects of Plastic Wastes Disposal: A Review. J Toxicol Risk Assess 5:021. doi.org/10.23937/2572-4061.1510021
- Because Health. 2021. Is Your Tea Bag Made with Plastic?. Retrieved from: https://www.becausehealth.org/plastic-in-my-tea-bag-2618934044.html. Retrieved on 4 March 2022.
- Hernandez LM, Xu EG, Larsson HCE, Tahara R, Maisuria VB, Tufenkji N. Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea. Environ Sci Technol. 2019 Nov 5;53(21):12300-12310. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.9b02540. Epub 2019 Sep 25. PMID: 31552738.
- Lifestyle Desk. 2020. 4 reasons your green tea bag may be hazardous to the environment. Retrieved from: https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/life-style/four-reasons-why-green-tea-bag-could-be-hazardous-environment-health-6599938/. Retrieved on 4 March 2022.
- Schwalfenberg, G., Genuis, S. J., & Rodushkin, I. (2013). The Benefits and Risks of Consuming Brewed Tea: Beware of Toxic Element Contamination. Journal of Toxicology, 2013, 370460. http://doi.org/10.1155/2013/370460
- The Health Site. 2017. This is why using tea bags can be harmful to your health. Retrieved from: https://www.thehealthsite.com/fitness/diet/this-is-why-using-tea-bags-can-be-harmful-for-your-health-t0517-489162/. Retrieved on 4 March 2022.
- The Spruce Eats. 2020. Tea Bags: History, Types, Uses, and More. Retrieved from: https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-a-tea-bag-765118. Retrieved on 4 March 2022.