How Safe Is Our Tea In A Paper Cup?

  • Disposable paper cups are popular choices of containers for consuming beverages.
  • But, a recent research by IIT Kharagpur has confirmed the existence of contaminated particles of the hot liquid served in paper cups due to the degradation of micro-plastics and other hazardous components from the lining material of the cup.
  • The paper cups are usually lined by a thin layer of hydrophobic film which is made of mostly plastic (polyethylene) and sometimes co-polymers to hold the liquid in the paper cup.
  • Within 15 minutes this micro-plastic layer degrades as a reaction to hot water.

What did Study says?

  • According to study, 25,000 micron-sized (10 µm to 1000 µm) micro-plastic particles are released into 100 ml of hot liquid (85 – 90 oC) residing in the paper cups for 15 mins.
  • Thus, an average person drinking three regular cups of tea or coffee daily, in a paper cup, would be ingesting 75,000 tiny micro-plastic particles which are invisible to the human eyes.

The researchers followed two different procedures-

  • In the first process, hot ultrapure (MilliQ) water (85–90 ◦C; pH~6.9) was poured into the disposable paper cups and it was allowed to sit for 15 minutes.
  • The homogeneously mixed water was then analyzed for the presence of micro-plastics as well as additional ions that may have leached into the liquid from the paper cups.
  • In the second process, the paper cups were initially dipped in lukewarm (30–40 °C) MilliQ water (pH~6.9).
  • Thereafter, the hydrophobic film was carefully separated from the paper layer and exposed to hot MilliQ water (85–90 °C; pH~6.9) for 15 mins. and
  • the changes in the physical, chemical, and mechanical properties of the plastic films were examined before and after the exposure to hot water.
  • These micro-plastics can act as carriers for contaminants
  • like ions, toxic heavy metals such as Palladium, Chromium, and Cadmium, and organic compounds
  • that are similarly hydrophobic in nature thus allowing them to conveniently cross over to the animal kingdom.
  • When ingested, the health implications could be serious.
  • This study shows that careful consideration needs to be done before the promotion of replacements for bio-hazardous products and environmental pollutants.
  • We have been quick to replace plastic cups and glasses with disposable paper cups. 
  • While the need was crucial we have to find eco-friendly products. India has traditionally been a country promoting a sustainable lifestyle and maybe it is a time that we look into our roots for corrective measures.