Microplastic particles are found in foods, from tea bags to seafood

Courtesy of Oregon State University via FlickrThe effects of climate change affect us in every aspect of our lives down to most unthought of scenarios. We ingest billons of microplastics as it has entered the food chain.

Courtesy of Oregon State University via FlickrThe effects of climate change affect us in every aspect of our lives down to most unthought of scenarios. We ingest billons of microplastics as it has entered the food chain.

Amanda Salazar

The effects of climate change and pollution are ever-present, constantly reported on by the media and noticeably changing our world every day.

Natural disasters and coral bleaching are commonly looked at as obvious impacts of human activity, but a result of our lack of environmental responsibility is affecting us in a more dangerous and less visible way.

A recent study done by chemistry professor Nathalie Tufenkji of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, found that microplastics were being leeched into tea that people were drinking in local coffee shops in her area.

She began her study after noticing that the tea bags local stores were using and selling were made out of a thin, silken plastic which, when placed into a mug of boiling tea, would likely release microplastics — particles of plastic much too small to see with the human eye. Those particles would diffuse into the tea that customers would then drink. Her hypothesis was correct.

“It turns out Tufenkji’s hunch was right. The bags were releasing plastic particles into the brewed tea. Billions and billions of them,” according to an article in The Washington Post.

While it is still undetermined what effect consuming microplastics and nanoplastics will have on the human body, the expectation is that they are not healthy for people to be consuming. When microplastics were presented to water fleas it caused them to swim crazily and in some cases, develop deformities, according to an article from Science Magazine.

This does not indicate good impacts of microplastic consumption on humans’ health. 

After all, it is common knowledge that plastic is not edible — it’s just not known what exactly will arise from this situation.

“With all the distressing news about microplastics in your food, you might be tempted to comfort yourself with a nice cup of tea. Not so fast,” as stated in the Science article. Tufenkji and the researchers who worked with her came to their findings by testing four different types of plastic tea bags that were being sold around their university. 

They had to use an electron microscope to see the plastics in the boiling water. They found that “a single bag would release more than 11 billion microplastic and three billion nanoplastic particles,” according to a Washington Post article. The plastic was the same material found in nylon and polyester.

Some of the particles released into the tea are small enough to enter human cells. According to a report from the World Wide Fund for Nature, the average person ingests around five grams of plastic each week, the equivalent of a credit or debit card. 

Plastic can be found in drinking water, fish, other seafood and beer.

Tuenkji conducted this experiment because she was concerned about how ingesting micro-particles of plastic will affect not only those who drink tea made from plastic tea bags, but the human population overall.

“We just wanted to make the public aware of this,” she said. “We want consumers to know that this is made of plastic so they can have the choice about whether this is really what they want to purchase.”

As can be seen, microplastics are entering our bodies, but they’re also entering our bodies of water, though typically in larger forms.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge, floating mass of garbage which is mostly compromised of plastic is twice the size of Texas, which is a huge testament to this .

Due to failure of countries’ recycling systems and flat out littering, plastic pollution has entered the world’s waters and often ends up in the stomachs of fish, whales, aquatic birds and many other marine animals. These particles remain in the bodies of these animals and enter our bodies after we eat them. 

This is how plastic enters our food chain. The long-term effects of this are still yet to be known.