By Ben Cost
Paper straws might not be the “eco-friendly” drinking tube they’ve been promoted to be: Belgian researchers found that these so-called “green” utensils are toxic and therefore potentially worse for the environment than their much-vilified plastic counterparts, according to a new study published in the journal Food Additives & Contaminants.
“Straws made from plant-based materials, such as paper and bamboo, are often advertised as being more sustainable and eco-friendly than those made from plastic,” Thimo Groffen, Ph.D., study author and an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp, said in a statement. “However, the presence of PFAS [poly- and perfluoroalkyl-based substances known as “forever chemicals” because they last for a long time before breaking down] in these straws means that’s not necessarily true.”
The new research comes following multiple initiatives enforced by numerous US cities, including New York, and restaurant chains to ban disposable plastic suckers comprised of polypropylene and polystyrene, which take hundreds of years to decompose and are linked to health problems from liver problems to birth defects.
“Their time has come and gone. I believe we should get rid of plastic straws,” NYC Mayor de Blasio said in 2018 after the City Council introduced a proposal to prohibit restaurants and bars from distributing plastic sippers.
Meanwhile, countries such as Belgium and the UK have already ditched these implements in favor of the supposed eco-conscious plant-based alternatives.
However, according to the new research paper, this is a total “strawman argument” — as these alleged environment-saving slushie siphons are potentially packed with more PFAS than the “evil” plastic version.
To deduce this a-straw-calyptic theory, researchers analyzed the PFA concentrations of 39 brands of drinking straws, which were comprised of five materials: paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, and plastic.
They found that paper straws were the most PFA-filled with a whopping 90% of paper straws containing the chemicals.
Meanwhile, bamboo straws — another highly touted green alternative — clocked in second with 80%, followed by 75% of plastic straws, 40% of glass straws, and none in steel straws.
Not to mention that some of these so-called “100% recyclable” straws are actually anything but.
It’s unclear how these substances — which have been used since the 1940s to repel water and grease in everything from cookware to carpets — ended up in the straws, although the presence of them in every brand suggests they were added on purpose as a liquid repellant.
Other potential PFA sources could be the soil the plant-based materials were grown in as well as the water used in their manufacturing, per Phys.org.