New Study Outlines Harmful Effects of Eco-Friendly Paper, Bamboo Straws

A new study, the first of its kind in Europe and the second in the world concluded that “eco-friendly” paper drinking straws contain long-lasting and possibly toxic chemicals.

Belgian researchers tested thirty-nine brands of straws for the group of synthetic chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), revealing that these synthetic chemicals were found in the majority of the straws tested, particularly straws made from bamboo and paper. 

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants, the study explained that the group of synthetic chemicals that are used to make everyday products, such as outdoor clothing and non-stick pans, resistant to water, heat, and stains, may be harmful to persons, wildlife, and the environment, stressing that they can remain in the environment for thousands of years and decompose very slowly over time, which has earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.”

The study also underlined that PFAS have been associated with several health issues, including lower response to vaccines and birth weight, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, liver damage, and kidney and testicular cancer.

Environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp, researcher Dr. Thimo Groffen, stated that “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,” stressing that “the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true.”

After testing different brands of drinking straws from different materials, namely paper, bamboo, plastic, glass, and stainless steel, researchers detected chemicals in 18/20 (90%) brands of paper straws,  4/5 (80%) brands of bamboo straws, 3/4 (75%) of plastic straws, and 2/5 (40%) brands of glass straws while no chemicals were detected in steel straws.

This research underlined that since the chemical concentrations detected were low and bearing in mind people’s occasional use of straws, straws pose a limited risk to human health. However, PFAS can accumulate over time and reside in the human body for several years.

It is unknown whether PFAS were brought about by contamination or added to the straws by the producers as a waterproofing agent. The water used during manufacturing as well as the soil the plant-based components were produced in are also potential sources of contamination.

Researchers also pointed out the possibility that the compounds were occasionally utilized as a water-repellent coating because they are present in almost every brand of paper straw.

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