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Problematic alternatives for plastic drinking straws

Belgian environmental researchers have detected chemicals of concern in drinking straws made of paper and bamboo in a study.


Since the EU Commission banned single-use plastic, drinking straws made of plastic have been replaced by those made of paper, bamboo and other materials. In their study, environmental researchers from the University of Antwerp led by chemist Thimo Groffen examined 39 drinking straws from supermarkets and fast-food restaurants, for example. These were made of paper (20), bamboo (5), glass (5) and stainless steel (5), as well as plastic (4). The scientists examined the straws with mass spectrometers. The result: drinking straws made of paper, bamboo and glass can contain long-lasting and potentially harmful chemicals known as perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS). The research team found PFASs in 27 drinking straws, most commonly those made of paper (18) and bamboo (4). Small amounts of PFAS were also detected in the glass tubes (4). The lowest amounts were measured in the plastic straws tested. Only the stainless steel straws were PFAS-free, according to the study. The PFAS concentrations measured were a maximum of seven nanograms per gram of drinking straw material and, given that most people use straws only occasionally, pose a limited risk to human health, according to the study authors. "Straws made from plant-based materials such as paper and bamboo are often advertised as more sustainable and environmentally friendly than those made from plastic," says Thimo Groffen. "However, the presence of PFASs in these straws means that this is not necessarily true." PFASs can remain in the body for many years and concentrations build up over time, the researcher said. "Small amounts of PFASs, while not harmful in themselves, can increase the chemical load already present in the body," Groffen explains.

  • FAZ (August 30, 2023)
  • Photo: © Pixabay, Manfred Richter

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