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When you use a paper straw for drinks, you might think you’re being a conscientious citizen of Planet Earth. If so, bad news: a team of scientists say paper straws have more harmful forever chemicals than plastic ones, and at higher concentrations. Well, at least we tried.
Scientists in Belgium discovered that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or the PFAS known as “forever chemicals,” were “more frequently detected in plant-based materials, such as paper and bamboo” versus plastic ones, as detailed in a new paper in the science 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,” said Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp who worked on the research, in a blurb about the findings. “However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true.”
The scientists looked at 39 brands of drinking straws made from five different materials: plastic, stainless steel, bamboo, glass and paper. Within this cohort, scientists detected PFAS in 27 of them.
Paper straws were most likely to test positive for PFAS, with 90 percent of the paper straws having the forever chemicals versus 75 percent in the plastic ones. The paper straws had far higher concentrations of forever chemicals versus plastic.
Almost all the other straws made from different materials also had PFAS, except for stainless steel.
The scientists said manufacturers use PFAS in plant-based straws in order to make them more “water-repellent,” but they could also be introduced through contaminated raw materials.
The news shows that it’s difficult for consumers to make virtuous or even healthy choices when many of the options on the market are a “pick your poison.” It makes any eco-conscious person want to throw their hands up in despair.
The Belgian study corroborates an earlier study from 2021 published in Chemosphere that detected the forever chemicals in paper straws but found plastic straws “had no measurable PFAS.”
What’s unfortunate about PFAS is that some are water soluble. Yikes. So what’s a person to do? Stick with stainless steel? But those are a pain to clean.
Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency aims to get rid of forever chemicals via a whole host of proposed rules and investment dollars. Perhaps in the future, these chemicals will be a thing of the past — but meanwhile, every sip is a slow drip of poison.