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How safe is your tea in a paper cup?

by Raju K
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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 owing to 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, says the first of its kind study conducted in India by Dr. Sudha Goel, Associate Professor at the Dept. of Civil Engineering and research scholars Ved Prakash Ranjan and Anuja Joseph studying Environmental Engineering and Management.

Sudha Goel said: “According to our 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”.

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.

Virendra K Tewari, Director, IIT Kharagpur pointed out: “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.”


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