Majority of tea brewed in the U.S. is made with tea bags, most of which are made with plastic. How tea bags are manufactured will vary depending upon the brand.
Tea is a popular drink. For example, in 2017, Americans consumed over 84 billion servings of tea and more than 3.8 billion gallons. Nearly 86 percent of that was black tea, followed by 13 percent green tea and the small remaining amount a mixture of oolong, white and dark teas.
Multiple benefits are associated with drinking tea, including consuming antioxidants, polyphenols and a variety of minerals.
Long-term tea drinking may improve blood pressure, and studies find green tea improves brain function, staving off cognitive disorders such as dementia. But before drinking your next cup of tea, reconsider your use of bagged tea.
But convenient as the use of tea bags is, a warning has been flashed about the possibility of plastic in the bags. Dr. Joseph Mercola provides details here.
Would you like some plastic with your tea?
Majority of tea brewed in the U.S. is made with tea bags, most of which are made with plastic. How tea bags are manufactured will vary depending upon the brand. Nearly 70 to 80 percent of an individual bag is made from compostable paper, while the remainder contains heat-resistant polypropylene. This is done to help prevent the bag from breaking apart in hot water. However, this also means minute pieces of plastic are likely deposited in your drink.
The bags with the highest amount of plastic are those which are crimped and pressed shut, using heat to melt plastic to seal the bag.
These are standard square, rectangular or round and crimped and pressed on all sides. Manufacturers place plastic in the paper fibers, which melt when heated to seal the tea bag shut.
Additionally, some companies treat paper tea bags with a chemical — epichlorohydrin — to prevent tears, which has been deemed a probable human carcinogen. It is known to react with water to form 3 MCPD, another possible human carcinogen.
Compostable or biodegradable labels
Manufacturers use tea bags with varying degrees of biodegradability. Some use material derived from starch treated by an enzyme to create a compound with a “plastic” character that can be spun into filaments.
As explained above, most bags, including the string and tag variety, contain polypropylene with small amounts of acrylic copolymer emulsions to prevent the bag from breaking down in hot water. But this also means small pieces of plastic will be left in the soil if you compost the bags.
A spokesperson from Twinings Tea commented: “We would not recommend that tea bags are used directly on the soil as a fertilizer or soil conditioner, as they are likely to take a longer time to break down. We would recommend that they are composted in a compost bin, or wormery first to optimize the availability of any nutrients for the plants.”
Another type of manufactured bags are silken tea bags, often touted as an eco-friendly choice. However, despite the name, the bags are made from fossil fuel-based nylon, which lasts forever. Although plant-based plastic is sometimes labeled biodegradable or compostable, just because it’s made of plant-based plastic does not automatically mean it will biodegrade.
Biodegradable means the product can be broken down by microorganisms over time. However, there is no stipulation that no toxic residue will remain, only that the product is no longer visible. Compostable means the product undergoes a biological decomposition and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass, leaving no toxic residue. Any product making a claim of biodegradability or compostability should quote the standards used in testing, as without this the label is meaningless.
Dangers associated with plastic in your food
Plastic will last for hundreds of years or longer, yet most of the products using plastic are used once and thrown away. Chemical additives, used to make the plastic more durable and flexible, are also harmful to the environment and human health. Phthalates, used to make plastics more durable, are loosely bound to the product.
Have you noticed how some flexible plastic products slowly get more brittle over time? This happens as the phthalates are slowly released into the environment. Similarly, when you dip your plasticized tea bag in a cup of hot water, you speed the release of tiny plastic pieces and phthalates from the tea bag.
The dangers associated with phthalates are related to their effect on your hormonal system. They are remarkably powerful hormone disruptors, and recent research confirms they’re capable of causing males in all species to develop feminine characteristics.
Data have demonstrated pregnant women exposed to phtalables have a higher risk of miscarriage. The chemicals have also been shown to feminize male genitals and to increase the risk of asthma.
Phthalates also have negative health effects on adults. In one study, research demonstrated a link between low levels of vitamin D and an increased intake of phthalates. These results are important as vitamin D is essential for brain, bone and heart health. Low levels have been linked to a higher risk for depression, mental decline and chronic migraine headaches.
Disturbingly, an alarming 10,000 chemicals are allowed to be added to food and food-contact materials in the U.S., either directly or indirectly.
Benefits from tea are extensive
There may be good reason black tea is one of the more popular tea drinks. With each sip, it provides you with multiple antioxidants, polyphenols, tannins and various minerals with impressive health benefits. For example, black tea has been shown to:
• Improve your gut microbiome
• Aid in weight loss
• Regulate blood sugar
• Improve mental focus and energy levels
• Fight free radicals, thereby improving cardiovascular health and reducing your risk of cancer.
High quality green tea is also well-recognized for its disease prevention and anti-aging properties. Polyphenols may account for up to 30 percent of the dry leaf weight of green tea, including flavonoids and catechins. One of the most powerful catechins is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).