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Paper straws may not be better for the environment: study

A new study reveals that paper straws might contain potentially toxic chemicals that can harm the environment

A new study reveals that paper straws might contain chemicals that harm the environment. (Pexels)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 28.08.2023  |  06:00 PM IST

Paper straws are one of the popular items on the list when one talks about environmentally friendly products. Today, restaurants and cafes across the world have switched from plastic to paper straws which are assumed to be eco-friendly. However, a new study has revealed that they might contain potentially toxic chemicals and can harm the environment.

For the new study published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, Belgian researchers tested 39 brands of straws for a group of synthetic chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to an article on Taylor and Francis Online, a website which gives access to peer-reviewed journal articles. These substances are often called the ‘forever chemicals’ as they stick around for thousands of years in the environment. 

The new findings showed that most of the tested straws, including those made from paper and bamboo, contained PFAS.

Also read: ‘Forever chemicals’ found in some period products

One can find PFAS in everyday products, from clothing to non-stick pans. They are known to cause harm to people, wildlife and the environment. The most commonly found PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), has been banned globally since 2020, according to the Taylor and Francis Online article. Although straws made of plant-based materials are advertised as more sustainable compared to those made from plastic, the presence of PFAS shows that this might not be true.

In this study, the paper straws were most likely to contain PFAS, with the chemicals detected in 90% of the brands tested, according to the statement. Notably, the chemicals were not detected in any of the steel straws tested. As the findings indicate, products promoted as sustainable or environment-friendly might not deliver on the promise entirely.

Another recent study by researchers from the University of Gothenburg examined how paper cups, which are considered to be an eco-friendly alternative to plastic cups, affect the environment. The findings revealed that a type of bioplastic, polylactide, which is used as a surface coating to make the paper cups water-resistant might be toxic, according to a Science Daily report.

According to researchers, bioplastics do not break down effectively when they end up in the environment. There is a risk that they persist in the environment and are ingested by animals and humans, causing harm to both. This indicates to a lack of research and awareness regarding sustainable solutions. 

Also read: Pacific coral reefs show increase in climate resistance: Study