Paper straws
Image by rodgersm222 from Pixabay

Paper straws: Are they more toxic than plastic straws?

When the school year begins, parents the world over frantically put together school supplies to usher in the new academic year. One daily ritual is the packing of meals for the little ones complete with a beverage of choice. These beverages are customarily packed with environmentally friendly paper straws.

Paper straws, once popular in the early half of the 1900’s, saw a resurgence in popularity as an environmentally safer alternative to their plastic counterparts. Its reintroduction has been plagued with the same shortcomings that led to the switch to plastic in the first place.

Paper straws have a tendency to disintegrate once in use and change the taste of the beverage being consumed. However, the modern incarnation of paper straws seems to have an even darker secret.

Forever chemicals in paper straws

In a recently published study, the use of both paper and bamboo straws has come into question, especially when one considers that they are used a lot by children, the elderly and medical patients.

According to Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, “Straws crafted from plant-based resources like paper and bamboo are commonly promoted as environmentally sound alternatives to plastic straws.

“Nevertheless, Groffen points out that the inclusion of PFAS in these plant-based straws challenges their assumed sustainability.” PFAS or poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances are also known as forever chemicals.

PFAS exposure in children

Children, due to their ongoing developmental processes, could potentially exhibit heightened susceptibility to the detrimental impacts of substances like PFAS.

Moreover, they might encounter these substances to a greater extent than adults do, owing to factors such as their elevated water consumption, increased food intake, and higher respiratory rates relative to their body weight. This combination can lead to elevated exposure to PFAS compounds in children.

This is especially worrying when you consider that paper straws by nature are ingested, as they tend to disintegrate while being used. This would have the potential to increase the rate of exposure.

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Possible PFAS health risks

A large number of studies have examined possible relationships between levels of PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) in blood and harmful health effects in people.

However, not all of these studies involved the same groups of people, the same type of exposure, or the same PFAS. These different studies therefore reported a variety of health outcomes.

  • Here is a list of possible health outcomes
  • Heart – increased cholesterol levels
  • Vaccine – decreased vaccine response in children
  • Liver – changes in liver enzymes
  • Infant birth weights – increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
  • Infant birth weights – small decreases in infant birth weights
  • Cancer ribbon – increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer

Source –

When in doubt, do without

Since there is no concrete statement on the risks associated with using bamboo and paper straws, the best course of action should be to eliminate them entirely.

Reverting to plastic straws is not an option either, not just for environmental reasons, but plastics have their own issues with regard to leeching chemicals into beverages.

There are 2 alternatives, reusable straws or eliminating the need for straws.

Reusable straws

Stainless Steel Straws

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Silicone Straws

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