A study warns that paper straws can carry pollutants

The European ambition to abandon single-use plastics transformed the format of straws.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
24 August 2023 Thursday 11:04
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A study warns that paper straws can carry pollutants

The European ambition to abandon single-use plastics transformed the format of straws. Then appeared the paper ones, the bamboo ones, the steel ones and the glass ones. The first two – made with material of vegetable origin – were the most popular, but "they can be harmful to health and no better for the environment than the plastic versions", according to a pioneering study in Europe, and second in the world.

The statement is made by the Taylor Group

Nicknamed the “eternal chemicals”, PFAS persist for long periods of time in the environment – ​​the numbers reach thousands of years – and have also been associated with a range of health problems: a lower response to vaccines, low birth weight, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol, liver damage, and some types of cancer (kidney and testicular).

"Straws made from plant materials (paper and bamboo) are often advertised as more sustainable than those made from plastic, however, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that this is not necessarily true," introduces the researcher Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp who participated in this study.

The group identified that PFASs are present in 69% of straw brands and that those made with paper are the most likely to contain them (90%), followed by bamboo (80%) and plastic ones (75%).

Outside of this triple podium, there are the glass ones, with a probability of 40%, and the stainless steel ones, which were the only ones in which PFAS were not detected. Consequently, the study defends the latter as the most responsible option: they are reusable, recyclable and do not contain these toxins.

In total, 18 different types of PFAS were detected in the analyzed straws; the one that appeared most frequently was perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been banned worldwide since 2020. Also detected, to a lesser extent, others that are highly soluble in water and that could leach from straws into drinks, although the study states as one of its limitations that it did not analyze whether, indeed, PFASs would transfer from straws to liquids.

Groffen warns that although these substances in small amounts are not harmful in themselves, they can add to a burden already present in the body. "I would recommend consumers to use stainless steel straws or to simply avoid using straws", concludes the researcher for this newspaper.

Carlos de Prada, head of Hogar sin Tóxicos, environmental and toxic experts, environmental publicist, indicates that "a problem with many of these substances is that, apart from other possible effects, they are what science defines as endocrine disruptors ". They are substances that "can alter the functioning of the hormonal system" and cause effects "in deliriously low concentrations, especially if exposure to these substances occurs in the early stages of life".

De Prada points out that, "as with other groups of toxic substances, PFASs do not only represent a human health problem, but also a health problem for ecosystems". This type of substance, he observes, "contaminates the aquatic and terrestrial food chains and has been detected in the organism of countless living beings in nature".

PFAS can be found in paper and cardboard food packaging, non-stick cookware, textiles, cosmetics and electronics.