A European study found that paper straws, promoted as eco-friendly alternatives to plastic in the U.S., often contain more harmful “forever chemicals” than plastic straws.
Belgian researchers tested 39 straw brands for synthetic chemicals known as poly and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Most straws, especially paper and bamboo ones, contained many of these chemicals.
Dubbed “forever chemicals,” these substances can endure in the environment for millennia, causing health problems like thyroid issues, high cholesterol, various cancers, and environmental harm.
Among the tested brands, PFAS was found in 90% of paper straws, 80% of bamboo straws, 75% of plastic straws, and 40% of glass straws. None of the steel straws showed traces of these chemicals.
Published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants, the study suggests that although PFAS levels in these straws are low and pose minimal risk with occasional use, they can accumulate in the body over time.
“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 researcher Dr Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp. “However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true.”
The source of the chemicals, whether added by manufacturers or from environmental contamination during production, was unclear. The study didn’t explore the straws’ potential to affect liquids.
“The presence of PFAS in paper and bamboo straws shows that they are not necessarily biodegradable,” Groffen said. “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.”
The study aligns with European and some U.S. areas’ push for eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws. States such as California and New York have banned single-use plastic straws in restaurants.