For tea enthusiasts, tea bags make for a great way to infuse the flavor of tea into your drink without having to go through the hassle of brewing a pot of tea. Even better, tea bags come in a variety of flavors so that you can mix things up from cup to cup.
But have you ever stopped to think about the vessel for your tea? Those tea bags, some of which are made of nylon mesh, are used because they can offer a potentially superior flavor.
Not only that, but they are believed to be more environmentally friendly than traditional, paper tea bags.
The real question remains: are those nylon tea bags the safest thing that we can be using?
What Is Nylon?
Nylon is a generic, broad category that describes synthetic polymer fibers. Those fibers are then used to create synthetic fabrics.
Nylon itself is a pretty broad category and there are a ton of different fabric types out there that will have the name “nylon” attached to it.
This artificial fiber is a silky type of material and can be used for a variety of different methods. Since it is naturally strong, it can be used for different applications and will hold up well even in harsh, wet conditions.
When it comes to tea, nylon is great because it is more environmentally friendly and helps to deliver the flavor of the tea in a superior way to less environmentally friendly vessels such as paper tea bags of old.
So, Are Nylon Tea Bags Safe?
This remains something of an open question without a solid answer. There is some concern about the safety levels of synthetic materials like nylon, particularly when they are used for tea and get exposed to boiling or near-boiling water.
Some plastics and synthetic materials are not safe when they are heated, releasing a variety of toxic chemicals into the drink. Nylon is typically quite heat-resistant; far higher temperatures than those that it is exposed to when you steep it in hot water.
Still, there are no published safety results on nylon bags. So, saying one way or the other isn’t certain at this point.
There are polymer experts out there who hypothesize the theoretical risks of using plastic or nylon tea bags, speculating that limited exposure may be a better idea.
With no definitive studies, however, the jury is still out. Many nylon tea bag users will rave about how much better their tea tastes and no doubt note that there are no ill health effects. Look hard enough around the web and you will find the inverse of that.
The fact of the matter is that, until we get definitive studies to either deem nylon tea bags safe or not, we won’t truly know for certain.
There is one certainty, however, nylon tea bags are definitely not the most sustainable choice since they are nearly nonbiodegradable, and it is not possible to compost them.
Still, nylon tea bags have a shorter long-term degradation process than most of the other forms of plastic out there by as much as 30 to 40 years.
Nylon will persist in the environment for a pretty long time, though it is far from an indefinite thing. There are even special types of nylon that are biodegradable, labeled as biodegradable nylon.
If you don’t see this designation, it is safe to assume that you have the nonbiodegradable kind.
Since there are no legal definitions for nylon tea bags as far as biodegradability, some companies might label their nylon tea bags as biodegradable even if that is not 100% the truth and it is not compostable in a backyard compost pile.
So, you may want to verify the biodegradability of your nylon with certain agencies to find and avoid noncertified products. There is also the concern that nylon has negative impacts on the environment as a whole.
Since most of the nylon available these days uses a process that generates a lot of nitrous oxide, there are concerns over its environmental safety. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that actually works to degrade and deplete the ozone.
Sustainable Alternatives to Nylon Tea Bags
If environmental sustainability is something that is on your mind when choosing tea bags, there are alternatives out there.
The best and most friendly alternative is loose-leaf tea. In terms of sustainability, this option is great because it minimizes the amount of packaging involved.
Loose packaged tea, meanwhile, is the best for biodegradable materials and you can even find metal tins that are great for reusability.
Loose tea also tends to be more affordable and offer a superior price. You can feel confident that what you are paying is going directly toward the quality of tea and not the quality of packaging.
If you are insistent on buying tea sachets or bags, go with bags that are fully biodegradable. These are materials such as cotton, silk, or paper. Paper is likely to be the most common type of tea bag that you see.
Silk is rarely seen for tea bags because of the cost to produce them.
Whatever option that you choose, just be aware: some companies will use nonbiodegradable sealants, such as plastics, on their paper tea bags.
If you are looking to abstain from chemicals further, it is important to know the materials involved and the process of creating the tea bags.
There have been studies in recent years that show that some of the premium tea bags on the market actually release billions of these tiny, microscopic plastic particles while they are steeping in your hot water.
The water is too close to boiling levels and these plastic bags shed more than 10 billion nanoplastic and microplastic particles into your water. This is a level that is “thousands of times” higher than levels reported in other kinds of foods.
The tea bags examined were either made of PET plastic or nylon; most of the time, these tea bags come in a triangular shape and even allow the drinker to see their leaves through the bag. Plastic tea bags, though, are generally less popular than the paper bag option.
Plastic tea bags are generally only used for high-end, specialty teas, so it may be a bit difficult to find them at a local grocery store.
Why Is Plastic in Tea Bags?
Nylon is a versatile synthetic material, so what is this about plastic in your tea? Well, most brands of bagged tea will contain plastic of some kind. Since there are millions of cups consumed daily, that can be a major screw up.
Even with nylon, some tea bags need that plastic polymer polypropylene to allow the tea bag to keep its shape in the hot liquid. Yet because of the plastic that is in most of the conventional nylon tea bags on the market, those tea bags should never decompose.
This can be bad if you’re looking to compost and generally be better for the environment.
Not only that, those melted plastics that can get into your drink can also be detrimental over time to your health. Polypropylene, similar to most plastics, can have an adverse impact on the body’s endocrine system.
Disruptions to the endocrine system can lead to a wide range of health issues that can eventually transform into chronic conditions. So, if you are thinking of making the switch, consider going with a plastic-free tea bag.
They may be a bit more costly, but you get peace of mind in knowing that you aren’t consuming little bits of plastic.
Avoiding the Plastic in Tea Bags
Bigger manufacturers may not offer plastic-free bags due to the higher costs of producing such a product. Even if you can’t find your favorite brand of tea in a plastic-free option, there are other ways that you can enjoy your tea and know that there is no plastic in it.
The first is to switch to a loose-leaf option. Maybe you thought it was too much trouble, but it is actually easier (and healthier) to use long-term.
Not only that, but it can actually pack a bit more flavor into your beverage because the leaves haven’t been ground down to fit into a tiny, potentially plastic-filled tea bag.
There are a wide range of eco-friendly loose-leaf brands out there that can provide a convenient, safer option with more flavor than that of a tea bag. Loose-leaf tea is also priced by weight whereas tea bags tend to be priced by bag.
Even better, you can reuse loose-leaf tea to make a second cup and cut down on your waste and expenses.
Perhaps best of all, you can buy loose-leaf tea in bulk. You can then cut down severely on the waste as well as plastic contamination.
Even if you don’t want to buy in bulk, it can be purchased in boxes or cans to fit your currently living situation just a little better and give you the delicious drink that you want.