Guess what? Paper straws aren't so eco-friendly either, study finds

Paper or plastic straw? No straw is the correct answer for healthier drinks

Guess what paper straws arent so eco friendly either

Plastic drinking straws have been "canceled" in much of the world because of their impact on the environment. But now a Belgian study finds that most paper straws contain long-lasting and potentially toxic chemicals, commonly called PFAS.

“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,” says researcher Dr Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp, who is involved in this study.

“However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true,” Groffen said.

PFAS were found in the majority of the straws tested and were most common in those made from paper and bamboo, the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants, found. The findings echo similar results in a U.S. study.

About the straw study

The Belgian research team purchased 39 different brands of drinking straw made from five materials – paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel and plastic.

The straws, which were mainly obtained from shops, supermarkets and fast-food restaurants, then underwent two rounds of testing for PFAS.

The majority of the brands (27/39, 69%) contained PFAS, with 18 different PFAS detected in total.

The paper straws were most likely to contain PFAS, with the chemicals detected in 18/20 (90%) of the brands tested. PFAS were also detected in 4/5 (80%) brands of bamboo straw, 3/4 (75%) of the plastic straw brands and 2/5 (40%) brands of glass straw.  They were not detected in any of the five types of steel straw tested.

About PFAS

PFAS chemicals are used to make everyday products, from outdoor clothing to non-stick pans, resistant to water, heat and stains. They are, however, potentially harmful to people, wildlife and the environment.

They break down very slowly over time and can persist over thousands of years in the environment, a property that has led to them being known as “forever chemicals.”

They have been associated with a number of health problems, including lower response to vaccines, lower birth weight, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, liver damage, kidney cancer and testicular cancer.

The most commonly found PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), has been banned globally since 2020.

The PFAS concentrations were low and, bearing in mind that most people tend to only use straws occasionally, pose a limited risk to human health. However, PFAS can remain in the body for many years and concentrations can build up over time.

“Small amounts of PFAS, while not harmful in themselves, can add to the chemical load already present in the body,” says Dr Groffen.

What to do

“We did not detect any PFAS in stainless steel straws, so I would advise consumers to use this type of straw – or just avoid using straws at all,” Groffen said.