It is well-known that disposable plastic coffee cups are an environmental disaster, due to the thin plastic lining makes them very difficult to recycle. A local Arabic daily quoting from the Environmental Science and Technology journal, says results of a new study reveal something even worse: mugs of hot drinks dump trillions of microplastic particles into the drink.

Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology analyzed single-use hot drink cups that are coated with low-density polyethylene (LDPE), a soft, flexible plastic layer often used as a waterproof liner. It turns out that when these cups are exposed to water at 100 degrees Celsius, they release trillions of nanoparticles per liter into the water.

Chemist Christopher Zangmeister, lead researcher on the study, said that it is not yet known whether they have bad health effects on humans or animals, but microscopic particles are present in the billions in every liter of the drink, noting that “in the past decade, scientists have found substances plastic wherever they look in the environment.”

Also, Zangmeister explained that by examining the bottom of glacial lakes in Antarctica, microplastic particles larger than about 100 nanometers were found, which means they were likely not small enough to enter the cell and cause physical problems, explaining that the results of the new study are different “because the nanoparticles (found in coffee cups) were so small that they could get inside the cell, which could disrupt its function.”

A similar study, conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology in 2020, found that a hot drink in a disposable cup contained an average of 25,000 microplastic particles, along with minerals such as zinc, lead and chromium in the water. American researchers believe that the results came from the same plastic lining.

The US researchers also analyzed nylon bags intended for packing food such as bread, which are transparent plastic sheets placed in baking pans to create a non-stick surface that prevents moisture loss. They discovered that the concentration of nanoparticles released in hot food grade nylon water was seven times higher than that in single-use beverage cups.

Zangmeister noted that the study’s findings could aid efforts to develop such tests to minimize any negative effects on human health.

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