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Plastic teabags taint tea with plastic debris
You’ve seen the heart wrenching picture of a sea creature, dying due to plastic pollution.
It’s ALARMING ! It’s DISTURBING !
But, the big bits of plastic, are the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to plastic pollution.
The other side of plastic pollution
In addition to big bits of plastic, which are an environmental menace and eyesore, little bits of plastic, are popping up everywhere. They referred to as micro- and nano-plastics.
They’re in the air, water, soil.
Humans are being exposed to them, on a daily basis.
Microplastics are itsy-weeny
So small, some of them, cannot be seen with the human eye. But, if you happen to be, itzy-weeny, they’re a BIG HEADACHE.
Multiple studies have shown, tiny creatures living in water and soil, take strain. The particles GET IN THEIR WAY and, a lot of the time, they’re EATEN.
And a belly full of plastic, has ZERO nutritional value.
So where do they come from………
The origin of microplastics
They are sometimes deliberately manufactured and then added to products. Ouch ! Be environmentally conscious – don’t buy products, which contain these plastic microbeeds.
But, this is not the major source of micro and nano-plastics.
The tiny bits of plastic, start out as BIG bits of plastic, in dolls, buckets, shampoo bottles etc. These big plastic items, get exposed to THE ELEMENTS……and are broken down.
The process is, akin to the weathering of rocks.
- Rocks become sand.
- Big plastic bits, become microplastics, which become nanoplastics.
The problem is, the microplastics NEVER go away.
Plastic lasts forever
The bonds that hold these plastic particles together are, more often than not, immutable, few, if any, creatures, have the chemistry, to pull them apart.
This is why microplastics, ARE A GROWING PROBLEM.
Did you know – there are chemical traces of every piece of plastic EVER CREATED, in the environment.
It is estimated, that at this point in time, the average human, is consuming, 39 000 to 52 000 particles/year.
Is it dangerous ?
Maybe – maybe not, at this stage, no one really knows, for sure.
One little particle, perched next to a cell, or inside a cell, is probably not especially toxic.
But, a lot of particles.
Possibly carrying a toxic payload : either chemical or microbial, could be a problem, under certain circumstances.
NOTE : The relatively big surface area of the particles, facilitates these attachments.
Blocks and blow ups
Microplastics, that make it into the body, can be targeted by an overzealous immune system, or get wedged in a tiny capillary, where the cause an occlusion.
Thank fully, most of the particles consumed, will just keep on MOVING THROUGH.
Of course, there presence in the nether regions of the gut, might not be completely benign either.
But, few will be absorbed……. so are the dangers of microplastics a storm in a tea cup ?
The storm in a tea cup
Not if you’re drinking fancy tea, on a regular basis. This is what a group of researchers based at McGill University, in Montreal, discovered, when they stopped for tea.
The team purchased 4 boxes of “fancy” tea, from local stores.
NOTE : What made these teas, “special”, they had been packaged in plastic teabags,
Tea time in the lab
Instead of enjoying a cuppa, when they returned to the lab, they cut open the teabags. Carefully, emptying them of their “tea leaves” and then, they boiled the kettle and went through the motions of making a cup of tea, with the “empty” tea bag. Just boiled water (95 °C) was poured onto the bag and it was left to “steep” for 5 minutes.
The bag was whipped out and THE SCIENCE BEGAN.
Tea bags under the microscope
The team, to a look at what the tea bags looked like, under a scanning electron microscope, before and after the immersion in hot water.
Imaging at a thousand times magnification, revealed that the original teabags before steeping, had a net-like structure and the surface, looked smooth. But, when they zoomed in closer, taking the magnification to 30 000 times, this is shown in the insets, the surface was a lot rougher.
After the steeping in HOT WATER, for 5 minutes…..the surface changed.
Now at the lower magnification, it appeared a lot rougher, while at the high magnification, dents and fractures could be seen.
So what ?
Being submerged in “boiling”water, for 5 minutes, is a little stressful, for a plastic teabag, but it is what they live for…
Besides the teabag is dispensed with – it’s the TEA, that matters.
So next the team looked at the leachate – this is the liquid that was left behind, after the dunking. To see what was really floating about, in the water, they passed it through a filter. The filter they used, was a very expensive version of a coffee filter. The filter, allowed them to look for different sized particles.
And, they found them….
Irregularly shaped microparticles (?1?200 ?m) were observed at 1000× magnification. When they zoomed in on these particles, taking the magnification to 100 000 times, the nature of the tiny particles, became clearer.
NOTE : The size distribution of the particles, is shown in the insets.
Using other chemical techniques, the team was able to confirm, that the little particles, they were looking at, where indeed, PLASTIC.
So, when you make a cuppa, with a plastic teabag, the teabag MELTS, a little a lot.
Is this something to worry about ?
Time to worry
Microplastics have popped up, in quite a few “foods”.
- When it’s in table salt, we’re looking at approx. 681 particles per kilogram of salt.
- When it’s in fish, we’re looking at somewhere between 0.2 and 1.9 particles per fish.
- When it’s in your water bottle, the average count, tallies up to 325 particles per litre.
- When it’s in tea…….
We’re talking about 2.3 million particles
between the size of 1 and 150 um, in ONE CUP OF TEA.
A cup of plastic
The take home message, that fancy herbal tea, packaged in a cute plastic teabag, is NOT as healthy, as you would think.
If you’re going to drink tea – go traditional, use a strainer, to remove the leaves. Alternatively, if you’re using a teabag, ensure the teabag, that’s holding those special “leaves”, is not made of plastic.
It’s NOT rocket science….
Plastic does not do HOT well.
Toxicity of Microplastics and Nanoplastics in Mammalian Systems. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health (2020) 17 :1509. Cheryl Qian Ying Yong, Suresh Valiyaveetill and Bor Luen Tang.
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