Drinking hot beverages from a paper cup could lead to serious health complications, new research from India warns.
Paper cups that are exposed to hot water release thousands of microplastics which contaminate beverages, according to a study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.
The lining of disposable cups is covered with a waterproof film that is mostly made of plastic — polyethylene and sometimes copolymers. The study found that when this film is exposed to hot water for about fifteen minutes — the time it takes the average person to finish their drink — it deteriorates and harmful substances like fluoride, chloride, sulfate and nitrate seeps into the water contained in the cups.
“Ingestion of microplastics, ions, and heavy metals regularly while consuming our daily dose of hot beverages like tea and coffee can expose us to potential risks in the future,” reads the abstract of the study.
Dr Sudha Goel, the lead author of the study, explained that the average paper cup’s film layer releases 25 000 micron-sized particles into a hot beverage, according to Metro.
“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,” he said.
The study found that four out of five disposable paper cups examined were lined with the HDPE (high density polyethylene) grade of plastic, which is considered “safe” but has been shown to seep dangerous chemicals, according to Eco Watch.
The polyethylene lining also makes it difficult to recycle these cups.
A spokesperson for the Paper Cup Alliance was quick to point out that the materials used in paper cups manufactured in the United Kingdom are not the same as those made in India.
“This report looks at cups manufactured for the Indian market and does not represent those used in the UK,” said the spokesperson.
“Paper cups manufactured and used in the UK do not use HDPE or co-polymers of cellulose, which were used in the cups sampled in India. Consumers can be confident that their cups… are 100% safe, hygienic and recyclable.”
The study adds more literature to the growing concern over the use of single-use cups for hot drinks, which have a detrimental impact on the environment.
The search for a truly 100 percent recyclable cup continues and is a key issue for environmental groups according to The Guardian. At present, the UK uses 2.5-billion paper cups per year.
The World Wildlife Fund predicts that citizens across the globe will use 33% more cups than it does now by 2030.