Conservation | A spot of tea… and microplastics?

Tea companies use a wide range of tea bags -- not all are compostable.

While reading a wonderful book titled, “In Kiltumper: A Year in an Irish Garden” by Niall Williams, the fact that tea bags contain plastic was mentioned in passing. Hold the phone! I couldn’t get this statement out of my head and dug into the research to learn more.

Not all tea bags are compostable. Some contain plastic fibers (microplastics) making them difficult to compost. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are less than 5 millimeters in diameter (roughly the thickness of a standard pencil lead) and have become a growing health and environmental concern.

The amount of microplastics in a cup of tea can vary depending upon the type of tea bag used, brewing temperature, and other factors. One study found that a single tea bag can release 11.6 billion microplastic particles or 16 micrograms into a cup of tea brewed at 203 F.

According to a Frontiers in Environmental Science report, currently there is limited information on the direct health effects to humans from ingesting small amounts of microplastics. As for the environment, microplastic pollution harms ecosystems, wildlife, and potentially human health through the food chain.

The leaf portion of tea bags is fully compostable but the bag part is a little more complicated. Paper is best, but staples and adhesives on the bags may not be compostable. Polypropylene (a plastic polymer) is used to seal the tea bags and to keep them in shape when the tea bag is placed in hot liquid. It also prevents the tea from escaping the bags when being transported or stored, according to Green Compostables.

See a comprehensive list of tea bags that are fully compostable HERE and HERE — learn how to spot the ones that are not.

One thought on “Conservation | A spot of tea… and microplastics?

  1. Ooooppps…autocorrect
    I meant Indira, thank you for this great article. Good to know my morning pot of tea is free of microplastics.

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published.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