Are Paper Drinking Straws Truly Environmentally Superior to Plastic Alternatives?

A study reveals “Eco-friendly” paper straws contain potentially toxic PFAS chemicals. Despite being associated with sustainability, these straws may introduce harm due to misidentified chemicals. Stainless steel or avoiding straws altogether are suggested alternatives.

APA 7: ChatGPT. (2023, August 28). Are Paper Drinking Straws Truly Environmentally Superior to Plastic Alternatives? PerEXP Teamworks. [Article Link]

In a recent study, touted “Eco-friendly” paper drinking straws have been found to harbor potentially harmful chemicals, raising concerns about their true environmental impact. The research, conducted by Belgian scientists, marked the first European analysis of its kind and only the second globally, scrutinizing 39 brands of straws for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Startlingly, PFAS were detected in the majority of tested straws, with the highest prevalence seen in those made from seemingly sustainable materials like paper and bamboo.

PFAS, used to confer water, heat, and stain resistance to various products, including non-stick pans and outdoor gear, possess persistence and longevity in the environment, earning them the moniker “Forever chemicals.” While they offer practical benefits, they have been linked to health issues ranging from lowered vaccine response to thyroid diseases and cancers.

The study underscores a paradox: straws made from ostensibly environmentally friendly materials may inadvertently contribute to pollution. Dr. Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp, emphasized that the presence of PFAS challenges the sustainability narrative associated with plant-based straws.

The global movement to ban single-use plastics, including straws, has driven interest in alternatives like plant-based options. However, findings from this study and others, such as one conducted in the United States, spotlight potential issues with these alternatives. The research scrutinized various straw materials, including paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel, and plastic. Results revealed that a substantial portion of brands tested positive for PFAS, predominantly in paper and bamboo straws.

Although PFAS concentrations in straws are typically low and may not pose immediate health risks, their long-lasting presence in the body raises concerns about cumulative exposure. The study underscores that while plant-based straws offer certain eco-friendly aspects, their potential for introducing harmful chemicals demands consideration. Researchers remain unsure if PFAS originated from the manufacturing process, such as water-repellent coatings, or if they were due to external contamination.

In light of these findings, stainless steel straws emerge as a preferable option, considering their absence of PFAS. Dr. Groffen advises consumers to consider such alternatives or even forgo using straws altogether. Ultimately, the study reveals the intricate complexities of “eco-friendly” alternatives and underscores the importance of thorough scrutiny before embracing them as true sustainable solutions.


  1. JOURNAL Boisacq, P., Keuster, M. D., Prinsen, E., Jeong, Y., Bervoets, L., Eens, M., Covaci, A., Willems, T., & Groffen, T. (2023). Assessment of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in commercially available drinking straws using targeted and suspect screening approaches. Taylor & Francis. [Taylor & Francis]
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