Paper straws are no better than plastic, research says

Aug 30, 2023, 9:00 AM | Updated: 9:10 am

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 21:  Paper straws sit on the bar at Fog Harbor Fish House on June 21, 2018...

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 21: Paper straws sit on the bar at Fog Harbor Fish House on June 21, 2018 in San Francisco, California. San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are all considering bans on plastic straws but are facing the difficult challenge of finding suppliers that make paper straws. Aardvark Straws, one of a few paper straw manufacturers in the United States, has seen a 5000 percent surge in sales over the past two years and currently is about two months behind on production. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Plastic straws have long been vilified for their negative impact on the environment. In efforts to be more environmentally friendly, many have adopted paper straws as an alternative.

Despite well-meaning attempts to cause less harm to the environment, researchers found that paper straws are just as bad. 

Christian Britschgi, a reporter for Reason Magazine, said Belgian researchers examined 39 straw brands. The examined straws were made with different materials like paper, plastic, metal, and bamboo. 

They measured the presence of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs). The chemicals are common in consumer products and industrial processes.

Products such as food packaging, fire extinguishing foam, and household cleaning products all contain PFAs. The chemicals are fire and water-resistant, said the Environmental Protection Agency

The chemicals, often called “forever chemicals” do not break down in the environment, according to the CDC. Because they do not break down, they can move through soil and water, contaminating food and drinking water. Bioaccumulation can cause health problems in animals. 

Research has found that PFAs are hazardous to the environment and to human health. According to the EPA, research has found that exposure to certain levels of PFAs can result in adverse health risks. Some examples are decreased fertility, increased risk of developing some cancers, and reduced immunity, among other conditions. Research into adverse health effects related to PFA exposure is ongoing.

Human consumption of products derived from animals that were exposed to bioaccumulation, breathing contaminated air or drinking contaminated water, or certain occupations such as chemical manufacturing, are all examples of PFA exposure. 

Paper vs. Plastic Straws 

Researchers found that the paper straws all contained PFAs. They also contained higher concentrations of “forever chemicals” than their counterparts constructed with other materials. 

Plastic straws also contain PFAs, but in lower concentrations. About 70% of the plastic straws examined by the researchers contained the chemicals. 

The only type of straw that did not contain PFAs was the steel option. Steel straws are a reusable option.

Britschgi said the emissions and pollution produced from making them should be taken into account when determining how environmentally friendly they are. 

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Paper straws are no better than plastic, research says