Plastic From Tea Bags – Should I Be Concerned?
Being an avid tea drinker, I have tried to explore the many ways of enjoying this beverage (which yes…there are MANY ways). After years of consuming tea from tea bags, I have found that there is truly a difference in flavor & quality of tea in bagged form & loose-leaf. I can now confidently say that I prefer loose-leaf tea without a doubt, over bagged. This being said, I find myself still enjoying tea from a bag when it is the only option or if I am on the go.
Tea bags make tea a quick, on-the-go beverage. It requires less tea accessories by minimizing the need to filter. It is easy & disposable. However, regardless of the benefits of having tea in a bag, recent findings have found that tea bags may present other challenges for our health as well as the planet’s health.
In this article, we are going to explore how tea bags came about, what types are available & most popular, what concerns are presented from tea bags (like plastic from tea bags), & what are some of the best options of tea bags out there!
History of Tea Bags
There is debate over who initiated the creation of the first tea bag, but the first recorded use of them was in 1908 from a Thomas Sullivan, an American tea importer. He shipped out his tea in silk pouches not intending them to be brewed in the bags. Some customers received them & did just that! They loved it & requested more.
Seven years later, Roberta C. Lawson & Mary Molaren filed a patent for their “tea holders”, which resemble the tea bag we use today. They were made of gauze & stitched in a fashion that made the infusion optimal. From here, in 1952 Lipton popularized the tea bag with their “flo-thru” bag option.
Since then, the major tea bag suppliers have not made many changes to their practices. This being said, materials have changed. Let’s explore what kinds of material & tea bags there are!
Types of Tea Bags
We all know what a tea bag looks like, but what are these things made of? Commonly, tea bags come in 3 different materials: filter paper, cotton muslin or “silken” food grade plastic (PLA or nylon). These materials encase the tea leaves & are typically bound together using glue, a staple, or nothing (folded or tied with the string). These bags are then connected to a bleached or unbleached string with the brands tag on the end.
We will break down these materials for better understanding here!
- Filter Paper: Typically the most popular choice. These are cheap options & reliable. Many times, these bags are bleached but can come in unbleached options. These are not transparent & therefore a challenge to see the leaves, if that is something you enjoy (I do…it’s not weird…).
- Cotton Muslin: Rarer to find, this tends to be a specialty type bag. These are unbleached, but may leave a very slight “cottony” flavor in the first steep.
- “Silken” Food Grade Plastic: Using this type allows for a few benefits. One, it allows the tea bag to be transparent & therefore you can see all the lovely tea leaves, herbs, spices & more! Two, these materials are used often to make pyramid shaped tea bags. This is done because it allows the tea leaves to unfurl better resulting in a better taste (still not as good as loose-leaf).
Concerns with Tea Bags
So, what does this mean for you & me…the consumer? Well there are a few things to note about the above tea bag options: their biodegradability, bleached vs unbleached, & of course what it is leaching into your cup (besides tea of course!).
- Biodegradability: When using tea bags, you are creating more waste than when brewing loose-leaf tea. So environmentally speaking, you should always look to loose-leaf, but if you are using tea bags let’s use ones that will biodegrade! Both the filter paper & cotton muslin options WILL biodegrade! This is great! The plastic type unfortunately will NOT biodegrade (or at least not for a very long time).
- Bleached vs Unbleached: Ever seen a very bright white tea bag? Most likely that has been bleached. This is done to give the tea bag a cleaner look because the material is normally brown. Although these bags do look cleaner, the process of bleaching these tea bags is done using chlorine. When steeped in boiling or near boiling water, small traces of chlorine, dioxin, & epichlorohydrin can leach into your cup! Over consumption of all of these have been linked to challenges such as cancers (2, 3).
- What else?!?: Unfortunately we don’t stop at just bleach, there is potential to have polyamide plastics come off the sealers used on the bags, as well as epi resin & 3-MCPD (a type of resin used to increase the tea bags wet strength). All of these in high doses have been linked to potential challenges like cancer (4, 5).
Best Tea Options
Now this stuff is meant to inform you as a consumer rather than scare you away from tea! There are good options out there if you are looking to incorporate tea into your life in a healthy & meaningful way! Below are our favorite brands that have taken steps to counteract these above challenges.
As discussed, loose-leaf is always my go to when possible. There are cheap & easy options that make loose-leaf any easy on-the-go option now too! Check out these mesh ball/single cup infusers from Buddha Teas here!
Tiesta Tea is one of my favorite loose-leaf brands! They refuse to use tea bags. When asked why, they were adamant that the bags took away from all their teas flavor. On top of that they wanted to do their part in being a sustainable company! Check out their tea here!
Still interested in tea bags? Check out my favorite sustainable tea bag option Buddha Teas! Buddha Teas understands the effects of everything described above. They have made it a personal responsibility to provide tea in the healthiest & most sustainable form for the consumer, while still making it cheap & easy to use! Learn more at the Fresh Steeps review or check out the Buddha Teas website for yourself here!
What Should I Do???
As a tea consumer, you have the right to know exactly what you are putting into your body. As stated before, this article is meant to inform! Interested in drinking tea still but not sure what to do from here? Here are a few of Fresh Steeps’ recommendations!
- Buy & use loose-leaf! (Always & forever the best option for taste & sustainability).
- Buy unbleached paper tea bags! (See above or check out Buddha Teas here).
- Buy reusable tea bags & fill with your own tea & herbs!
There are a lot of reasons you may want to change the way you brew your tea. You may want to reduce your plastic from tea bags or give yourself a better tasting tea experience, either way there are options & you should do what is best for your health & the health of the environment!
Let us know what questions you may have in the comments!