A new study reveals high levels of plastic leaching out into the tea from the so-called "silken" tea bags associated with high-priced teas (Shutterstock)

Premium tea: Are you drinking microplastics?


It what may be a surprising if not alarming study, drinkers of premium teas could be ingesting substantial amounts of microplastics.

The study from McGill University in Montreal examined the use of so-called “silken” teabags instead of typical paper teabags. These often pyramid shaped “silken” teabags are associated with higher-priced premium teas, but are actually made with the same type of plastic (PET) commonly used in plastic drink containers.

Detail of the pyramid shaped “silken” teabags made from plastic (Shaddack-wiki commons)

The McGill study found that the bags dunked in extremely hot or boiling water can release surprisingly high quantities of microplastic and nanoplastic particles.

It was published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology under the title, Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea” ( abstract and open access here)

Chemical engineering professor Natalie Tufenkji, tested four brands of the “silken” teabags and while she had suspected some plastic particles,  the research team was extremely surprised at the amount released

Analysing the leachate from the plastic teabags under electron microscope revealed high levels of microplastic, and even smaller nanoplastic particles (LM Hernandez et all, McGill U)

Speaking on a CBC news show she said “we were really shocked when we saw that the teabags were releasing billions of plastic particles into a cup of tea”.

They found that a single cup of one such teabag could contain 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles, about the size of pollen. This is a much higher rate than quantities of microplastics found in tap water, table salt or other products and  equates to a total about one-sixtieth of a milligram of plastic per cup of tea.

Canadians drink about 10 billion cups of tea annually.

Scientists don’t yet know what the effects might be on humans from consumption of micro, or nanoplastic particles.

Nanoparticles can pass into the bloodstream and can cross into cells.

Tufenkji says the results show more study needs to be done on potential health concerns associated with consumption of micro and nanoplastics, but in the meantime she suggests sticking with paper teabags not only for the potential health concerns, but if nothing else to avoid the single use plastic ones which only add to the world’s plastic pollution problem.

Her research group now plans to study other plastic packaging and how they may be releasing plastic particles into food and drink.

Additional information-sources

Categories: Economy, Health, Society
Tags: , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish or in one of the two official languages, English or French. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available


One comment on “Premium tea: Are you drinking microplastics?
  1. Avatar hertavein says:

    Canadian researchers found that some plastic tea bags shed high levels of microplastics into water.

    Microplastics have widely been found in the environment, in tap and bottled waters, and in some foods.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) says such particles in drinking water do not appear to pose a risk