In an effort to be more environmentally responsible, paper straws have replaced disposable plastic ones.
Do you not like them? It seems that some of the environmental preservation measures were futile.
The majority of the paper and bamboo straws examined in a recent study, which was published on Thursday in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, showed signs of “forever chemicals” called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
39 types of straws made of paper, bamboo, plastic, and stainless steel that are sold in stores, supermarkets, and restaurants all around Belgium were tested by scientists there.
Nearly all of the straws examined had PFAS, which are frequently used in manufacturing to make items water resistant. 27 of the total 39 tested items—none of which were stainless steel—had the compounds found.
Conversely, paper straws were the most likely to test positive for PFAS, with 18 out of 20 (or 90%) of the brands tested. Additionally, they were discovered in three of four plastic straws, two of five glass straws, and four of the five bamboo straws.
Non-green at all?
In total, 18 distinct PFASs were found, but they were all present in relatively low amounts. But the substance that was most frequently discovered was perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which was outlawed globally in 2020.
The study’s findings were summarized as follows: “These ‘eco-friendly’ plant-based straws are not necessarily a more sustainable alternative to plastic straws because they can be thought of as an additional source of PFAS exposure in humans and the environment (e.g. after degradation in landfills or through incomplete incineration).”
The study also found PFAS that are known to be highly water soluble, which means they could leak into a drink through a straw, but it did not further look into this element.
The researchers hypothesized that the presence of PFAS could be explained by contaminated soil or an unforeseen side effect of material recycling, even though manufacturers may purposefully cover their plant-based straws in chemicals to make them water-repellent. To ascertain the main source of contamination in the straws and how the chemicals may affect drinks and individuals ingesting them, the authors advised conducting additional research and studies.
This Belgian study follows a 2021 American study that discovered 21 PFAS in paper and other plant-based straws but none in detectable concentrations in plastic ones.
Although PFAS were found in the majority of the straws tested, the low concentration and the very seldom usage of straws indicates there is no imminent danger to people.
Small levels of PFAS do not constitute a concern by themselves, but rather the risk comes from the way that they can accumulate over time, including in the human body. Despite these findings, plant-based straws are still more environmentally friendly than plastic ones.
The authors of the study advise using stainless-steel straws because they may be used repeatedly and have all been tested to be PFAS-free. This is for both environmental and health reasons.
what are PFAS?
The term “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” or PFAS, refers to a group of persistent compounds that decompose slowly over a very long period of time in the environment.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that PFAS are frequently used and last a long time in the environment, which means that they can be found in low concentrations in food, packaging, and household products as well as in the blood of humans and other animals all over the world.
What PFAS-related health hazards exist?
While researchers are still figuring out how much PFAS affect humans, animals, and the environment, they are already linked to a number of health issues.
The EPA claims that PFAS have been connected to:
- reproductive consequences including lowered fertility or elevated high blood pressure in expectant mothers.
- impacts on or delays in a child’s development, such as low birth weight, accelerated puberty, differences in the child’s bones, or behavioral changes.
- increased risk of some cancers, including as testicular, renal, and prostate cancer.
- lower capacity of the immune system to combat infections, including diminished response to vaccinations.
- interference with the body’s hormones in their normal state.
- elevated cholesterol and/or an increased risk of obesity.
Where can you often find PFAS?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that PFAS is present in hundreds of everyday goods. They have occasionally received FDA approval for restricted uses, such as in food packaging.
They can frequently be seen in:
- textiles and carpeting that are water- and stain-resistant.
- cleaning supplies.
- foam for fighting fires.
- packing of food.
- apparatus for processing food.