Disposable Plastic Cups Release Massive Amounts of Nanoparticles, Study Finds

Plastic nanoparticles from disposable cups can be released into the human body when used to serve hot coffee and other products.

Single-use coffee cups and other commonly used products expose humans to trillions of nanoparticles of plastic per serving, according to the findings of a new study, raising potential long-term health risks.

Plastic nanoparticles are an increasing concern, causing widespread pollution of both water and soil, which can have a harmful impact on the human body, causing inflammation, necrosis, physical stress and immune responses, according to growing research.

In findings published last month in the medical journal Environmental Science Technology, researchers warn that common paper coffee cups we get at our local coffee shop are a significant contributor to human exposure in the United States, as simply drinking hot beverages from these cups allows these nanoparticles to leach into our food and drinks and enter our body.

Researchers sought to quantify the amount of pastic nanoparticle exposure, revealing that the lining of a 12 ounce paper cup used for hot beverages releases more than 5 trillion plastic nanoparticles per liter.

There is a global environmental crisis caused by the overuse of consumer plastics and single-use plastics, but this study adds another component to the issue with the problem of nanoparticle leaching.

Invisible plastic nanoparticles are leached into our food and beverages from common plastic products every day, and these plastics may be detrimental to human health. There is a lot that is unknown about how these particles affect the body.

Because the particles are so tiny, they can enter the bloodstream which later can lead to the tissues and organs and cause health problems in the short and long-term. However, more research is needed to determine what those health effects may be and how the FDA should be regulating these plastics to protect the population as a whole.

Researchers from the Material Measurement Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland conducted experiments to determine how many nanoparticles leach when exposed to hot beverages.

They poured ultra-high purity water into nylon slow-cooker bags and polyethylene-lined paper coffee cups from different retailers. They eliminated all other potential sources of plastic pollution to quantify the nanoparticles.

The slow cooker bag leached about 35 trillion plastic nanoparticles per liter of water. The coffee cup leached 5.1 trillion plastic nanoparticles per liter after exposure to hot water for 20 minutes and allowing the liquid to cool, which is how a typical cup of coffee would be consumed.

Many food and drink items are made of, or lined with, low-density polyethylene, a plastic film that helps keep liquids hot and prevents them from leaking through the cardboard. This film also releases nanometer-sized plastic particles when exposed to water.

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More than 1,000 particles with a diameter of 100 nanometers can fit across one human hair. The nanoparticles released into the water from a single 300 mL hot beverage cup equates to one particle for every seven cells in the human body. We often use these types of consumer products that contain nanoparticles on a daily basis.

Furthermore, the liquid doesn’t need to reach boiling for the nanoparticles to be released. The number of nanoparticles released into water increases with the water temperature from room temperature up until about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, then it levels off and stays constant.

Hot beverages like coffee, tea and hot cocoa are typically served at temperatures between 130- and 160-degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers indicated the total amount of particles leached into hot beverages from single-use cups were under the level considered safe for human consumption set by the FDA, but also noted those levels are outdated and need to be retested.

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