Study: Paper straws are more toxic than plastic ones


August 25, 2023 | 10:27 a.m

This may be the final straw for environmentalists.

Paper straws may not be the “green” drinking straw they’ve been touted for: Belgian researchers have found that these so-called “green” straws are toxic and therefore may be worse for the environment than their much-maligned plastic counterparts. According to a new study published In the Journal of Food Additives and Contaminants.

“Straws made from plant-based materials, such as paper and bamboo, are often advertised as more sustainable and environmentally friendly than those made from plastic,” Themo Groven, Ph.D., study author and ecologist at the University of Antwerp, He said in the current situation. “However, the presence of PFAS (polymers and perfluoroalkyl-based substances known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they last a long time before degrading) in these straws means that this isn’t necessarily true.”

The new research follows multiple initiatives by several US cities, including New York, and restaurant chains to ban single-use plastic straws made up of polypropylene and polystyrene, which take hundreds of years to decompose and have been linked to health problems from liver problems to birth defects. .

“Their time has come and gone. I think we should get rid of the plastic straws,” said New York City Mayor de Blasio. In 2018 after the city council He proposed banning restaurants and bars from distributing plastic bottles.

Cities across the United States have imposed bans on single-use plastic straws.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Meanwhile, countries such as Belgium and the United Kingdom have already abandoned these tools in favor of supposedly environmentally friendly vegan alternatives.

However, according to the new research paper, this is just a “straw argument” — that these so-called eco-friendly straws are likely to be full of more PFAS than the “evil” plastic version.

To infer this theory, the researchers analyzed the PFA concentrations of 39 brands of drinking straws, which were composed of five materials: paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, and plastic.

They found that paper straws were the most full of PFA, with 90% of the paper straws containing the chemical.

Meanwhile, bamboo straws – another very popular green alternative – took second place at 80%, followed by 75% of plastic straws, 40% of glass straws and none of steel straws.

Paper straws were more likely to contain chemicals than their plastic counterparts.
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By far PFA has been the most prevalent Perfluorooctanoic acidwhich has been banned globally since 2020. However, this substance is still manufactured in some countries and can be present in products purchased by US consumers.

Also present was trifluoroacetic acid and trifluoromethanesulfonic acid, which dissolve easily in water, which means they are more likely to leach from straws into drinks.

“The presence of PFAS in paper and bamboo straws shows that they are not necessarily biodegradable,” Groven cautioned.

Not to mention, some of these so-called “100% recyclable” straws are actually anything but.

It is not clear how this material was used Since the 1940s to repel water and grease On everything from cookware to carpeting, it ended up in straw, though its presence on every brand indicates it was added on purpose as a liquid repellant.

Other possible sources of PFA could be the soil in which the plant material was grown as well as the water used to manufacture it, according to

Among the samples, 90% of the paper straws contained forever chemicals compared to 75% of the plastic straws.
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Fortunately, low concentrations of PFAS, such as the amounts ingested from hay use, are unlikely to pose serious health risks.

However, animal studies show that the buildup of these chemicals over time can cause a host of dreadful side effects, including liver damage, a weakened immune system, low birth weight, and even infant death.

Unfortunately, the long-term effects in humans are not yet known, as animal testing has been done with higher levels of PFAs.

Picnic set includes cocktails in plastic cups with straws.
Shutterstock/Bogdan Songashnij

In light of the findings, Goffin concluded that plant-based straws may be an environmental “paper tiger”, and that perhaps there is only a truly eco-friendly alternative to plastic.

“We did not detect any PFAS in stainless steel straws, so I advise consumers to either use this type of straw – or avoid using straws at all,” the researcher advised.

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