Toxic forever chemicals found in ‘eco friendly’ straws

Toxic forever chemicals were found in almost all types of straws analysed in a peer reviewed study, including paper and bamboo straws that are often used as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic.

The research, recently published in Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A by academics from the University of Antwerp, analysed the concentration of PFAS – per- and polyfluorinated fluoroalkyl substances – in 39 different brands of straws, made from paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, and plastic. 

PFAS are a group of synthetic pollutants that are used in a wide range of products due to their non-stick qualities and durability, however concerns have been raised about their persistence in the environment – due to their strong carbon-fluorine atom bonds which take a long time to break down – and impact on human and animal health. 

The study identified PFAS in almost all types of straws, except for those made of stainless steel. 

Interestingly, PFAS were more frequently detected in plant-based materials, such as paper and bamboo. The implications of this is that straws marketed as environmentally friendly may not necessarily be, and could be releasing PFAS into the environment. 

Straws made of paper were found more likely to be contaminated with PFAS than other types of straws, as manufacturers aim to make the paper water-repellent – this coating also potentially limiting how well they biodegrade.

One of the authors of the paper, Dr Thimo Groffen, told news outlets: "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.

"However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that's not necessarily true."

The study’s findings come at a time that public awareness about the potential harms of PFAS is growing,  

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive has recommended the development of statutory standards for PFAS in drinking water in England and Wales, amongst other potential restrictions. 

SEE - Primer: HSE’s recommendations for regulating PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in the UK, explained

Meanwhile, the European Chemicals Agency is currently seeking views on a sweeping ban on the production of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances in Europe proposed by the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.