Study: Paper Straws More Toxic Than Plastic
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Study: Paper Straws More Toxic Than Plastic

Feb 11, 2024

In a growing global campaign to eliminate plastic pollution and promote environmentally friendly alternatives, the paper straw was thought to have emerged as a winner. A new study, however, has raised questions about that.

According to the study, paper straws may contain more 'forever chemicals' than plastic straws, reducing their eco-friendliness.

The study published Thursday in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants discovered "forever chemical" PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds) in most paper and bamboo straws examined.

Credit: Beyond Plastic

Belgian scientists evaluated 39 kinds of straws made of paper, bamboo, plastic, and stainless steel that can be bought in shops, supermarkets, and restaurants nationwide.

Almost all the straws examined contained some combination of PFAS, commonly used during manufacture to make items water-resistant. Chemicals were found in 27 of the 39 analyzed, none of which were stainless steel.

On the other hand, paper straws were found to be the most likely to contain PFAS, with 18 out of 20 brands, or 90%, testing positive.

They were also discovered in four of every five bamboo straws, three of every four plastic straws, and two of every five glass straws.

In total, eighteen distinct PFAS were found, though at low amounts. However, the most commonly discovered compound was perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which was prohibited globally in 2020.

Credit: Freepik

"These 'eco-friendly' plant-based straws are not necessarily a more sustainable alternative to plastic straws," concluded the study, "because they can be considered as an additional source of PFAS exposure in humans and the environment (e.g., after degradation in landfills or through incomplete incineration)."

The study also detected PFAS that are known to be highly water soluble, implying that they could leak from the straw into a drink, but did not look into this component further.

While manufacturers may actively cover their plant-based straws in chemicals to make them water-repellent, the presence of PFAS might also be linked to contaminated soil or an accidental outcome of material recycling, according to the study.

The authors proposed that more research and testing be done to discover the significant source of contamination in the straws and how the chemicals may affect the drinks and individuals who consume them.

This Belgian study follows a 2021 U.S. study that discovered 21 PFAS in paper and other plant-based straws but no significant quantities in plastic straws.

While PFAS were found in the majority of the straws tested, the low concentration, combined with the limited use of straws, implies they do not represent an immediate risk to humans.

Trim levels of PFAS are not dangerous in and of themselves; their capacity to accumulate over time, especially in the human body, offers the most significant concern. Despite these findings, plant-based straws are still preferable to straight-up plastics.

Because stainless-steel straws are long-lasting and PFAS-free, the study authors recommend using them for environmental and health reasons.

Credit: Freepik

PFAS is an abbreviation for "per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances," it refers to a group of long-lasting chemicals that take a long time to break down in the environment.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS are widely used and persist in the environment for long periods, which means they can be found in the blood of humans and animals worldwide, as well as in air, water, soil, and at low levels in foods, packaging, and household products.

While scientists are still investigating how PFAS affects us, animals, and the environment, they are already linked to several health risks. PFAS, according to the EPA, has been associated to:

Credit: Plastic Straws

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), PFAS can be detected in hundreds of everyday goods. The FDA has permitted their usage on limited levels in particular instances, including food packaging. They are frequently seen in:

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