It turns out all those paper straws are bad for the environment too
HomeHome > Blog > It turns out all those paper straws are bad for the environment too

It turns out all those paper straws are bad for the environment too

Jul 28, 2023

Not only are the straws likely not biodegradable, they are also vectors for chemicals considered hazardous to human and environmental health, a new study found

Canada has legislated the mandatory adoption of paper straws just in time for new evidence to emerge that the new straws may be just as unsustainable as their plastic predecessors.

A new study published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants examined more than 20 different brands of plant-based straws and found high levels of toxic chemicals in almost all of them.

Enjoy the latest local, national and international news.

Enjoy the latest local, national and international news.

Create an account or sign in to continue with your reading experience.

Don't have an account? Create Account

“These ‘eco-friendly’ plant-based straws are not necessarily a more sustainable alternative to plastic straws,” concluded a research team based at Belgium’s University of Antwerp.

Straws examined by the researchers were largely found to be laden with per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as “forever chemicals.”

This not only means that the straws likely aren’t biodegradable, but that they are vectors for chemicals considered hazardous to human and environmental health.

The report noted that even in situations where a plant-based straw doesn’t become litter, it will most likely end up in a landfill where it will spend the rest of its lifecycle “releasing PFAS further into the environment.”

“Straws made from plant-based materials … are often advertised as being more sustainable and eco-friendly than those made from plastic. However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true,” environmental scientist Thimo Groffen said in a press statement.

Canada is in the midst of an all-out drive to prohibit the distribution of single-use plastics, with plastic straws being one of the most visible targets of the ban.

In December 2022, Environment Canada made it illegal to manufacture or import plastic straws, cutlery and checkout bags, among others. At the end of this year, the sale of those products will also become prohibited. The transition is not free; even according to the most optimistic estimates of the Government of Canada, the average Canadian can expect to pay upwards of $50 apiece in the higher costs of plastic alternatives.

The University of Antwerp team performed chemical analysis on 39 different types of straws sourced from Belgian supermarkets and fast food outlets: 20 paper, five glass, five bamboo, five stainless steel, and four plastic.

Only the stainless-steel straws were found to be completely PFAS-free. The steel straws were also the only type that could realistically be recycled. Researchers were surprised to discover that even glass straws contained measurable amounts of forever chemicals.

As to why these chemicals were so widespread in alternative straws, one reason is that they were added to make the products water-repellent. The Belgian study also noted that it might be partially unintended; with so many paper straws made from recycled materials, manufacturers might be unwittingly using raw ingredients that were previously infused with PFAS.

Although Canada’s straw ban has often pitched as a means to protect ocean health, the vast majority of plastic in the world’s oceans comes from a handful of countries (largely in South Asia) that dump their waste directly onto beaches or into rivers.

In Canada, by contrast, the vast majority of single-use plastics are captured by existing waste-management systems. A 2019 report commissioned by Environment Canada determined that of the 3,268 kilotonnes of plastic waste Canada generated in 2016, 3,239 kilotonnes were “collected.”

Ottawa has also done little to no research on the environmental impacts or the potential unintended consequences of finding alternatives to single-use plastics. A Government of Canada report on alternatives to plastic straws and checkout bags simply advises retailers to find products that won’t be “problematic.”

That same report touts how Starbucks replaced plastic straws in 2019 with specialized “strawless” lids, but fails to note that the new lids actually contain more plastic than the prior cup/straw combo.

Our website is the place for the latest breaking news, exclusive scoops, longreads and provocative commentary. Please bookmark and sign up for our daily newsletter, Posted, here.

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

To contribute to the conversation, you need to be logged in. If you are not yet registered, create your account now - it's FREE.

From flexible to firm to ultra-strong hold

Options for different preferences and budgets

Etsy, Our Place and Gap, to name a few

Get healthy, happy, crack-free heels while saving money on countless trips to the nail salon

Apple Inc. has set Sept. 12 as the date for its biggest product-upgrade event of the year, when it’s set to unveil the iPhone 15 line and next-generation smartwatches.