Drinking coffee or tea in a disposable paper cup doesn’t just harm the planet from tons of hard-to-recycle waste. You can also end up swallowing tiny microplastic particles, scientists warn.
Tiny plastic particles can end up contaminating your hot beverage in a matter of minutes, according to a study. They come from the inner lining of the glass that makes it waterproof and at the same time prevents its recycling.
To check this, the researchers poured hot water into 100ml paper cups and left it that way for 15 minutes, which is the time it takes most people to drink everything. They then examined the hot water under a powerful microscope and found an average of 25,000 microplastics per glass.
They also found metals such as zinc, lead and chromium, which allegedly came from the same plastic coating.
“An average person drinking three regular cups of tea or coffee daily, in a paper cup, would end up ingesting 75,000 tiny microplastic particles which are invisible to the naked eye”explains Sudha Goel, lead author of the study from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur.
The plastic particles identified were the size of a micron, i.e. 25 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
“Microplastics act as carriers for contaminants like ions, toxic heavy metals such as palladium, chromium and cadmium. When ingested regularly over time, the health implications could be serious”Dr Goel clarifies.
Although research is still very limited, exposure to microplastics has been linked to health problems such as cancer, a weak immune system and reproductive problems. In animals, microplastics can pass through the resistant membrane that protects the brain.