The Dark Side of Eco-Friendly Straws: A Health Perspective

November 25, 2023 5 mins to read
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Many places have banned single-use plastics, and pushed instead for eco-friendly alternatives. A hot topic has been eco-friendly plant-based straws. They are touted as a seemingly perfect solution to the plastic pollution crisis. However, recent studies have shown a troubling aspect of these “green” products: the presence of toxic chemicals. In this article I’m going to dig into the dark truth behind eco friendly straws toxic, due to compounds called PFA (forever chemicals), and the impact those chemicals have on our health and the environment.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS, or poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of over 12,000 man-made chemicals known for their water and oil-resistant properties. They are commonly used in various consumer products, including food packaging, cosmetics & cookware. The disturbing aspect of these PFA chemicals is their persistence; they break down very slowly, earning the nickname “forever chemicals”​​​​. The half life of PFAs is roughly 3.5-4.8 years.

PFAS in Plant-Based Straws

Recent research has revealed that many plant-based straws, particularly those made from paper and bamboo, contain PFAS. Out of 39 straw brands studied, 27 were found to have detectable levels of these PFA chemicals. This discovery is concerning because PFAS have been linked to several health issues, including: kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, and other illnesses​. Combined the health risks with the fact that PFAs persist in the body for upwards of 5 years…it’s clear these are not chemicals you want in your straw leeching into the beverages you drink.

Why Are PFAS Used in Straws?

The reason behind the use of PFAS in paper straws is simple. Initially, paper straws were not durable; they would fall apart in liquids. I mean it makes sense right? They are paper after all. To counter this, manufacturers began coating them with PFAS, which strengthened their resistance to liquids but at the cost of our health and ironically the very environment they were designed to allegedly protect.

Health Implications

The CDC has reported that high levels of certain PFAS can lead to: increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, reduced infant birth weights, and a weakened over-all immune system. Proponents of plant-based straws argue the concentrations of PFAS in these straws to be low, but that isn’t a strong argument, because they persist for many years in the body, the cumulative effect over time can be significant, particularly considering the wide array of products that contain these chemicals​​. Metal straws work perfect, they are wash-able and reusable, so why not use those instead?

Broader Environmental Impact

The presence of PFAS in plant-based straws also undermines their biodegradability, contributing to environmental pollution. Again I want to point out the irony of this, considering plant-based straws were designed to help protect the environment. PFAS have been detected in various water systems across the United States and Canada, affecting millions of Americans and Canadians. This widespread contamination of water resources raises serious concerns about the long-term ecological and health impacts of these PFA (forever) chemicals​​.

What Can We Do?

As consumers, we can opt for straws made from materials that do not contain PFAS, such as stainless steel (mentioned earlier), which are reusable and fully recyclable. Another simple solution is to reduce or eliminate our use of straws altogether. Frankly I haven’t used a straw in probably over a decade! It’s also crucial to stay informed and advocate for stricter regulations on the use of PFAS in consumer products; perhaps they could use carnauba wax or something less dangerous to coat paper straws?

Conclusion

When in pursuit of eco-friendly alternatives, PFAs in plant-based straws reminds us that “green” isn’t always all it’s made out to be, and can even be detrimental to our health if we aren’t careful. You have the power with your dollar and purchases to take down or build up companies. So if you don’t like PFA ‘forever’ chemicals leeching into your drinks and the environment then vote with your dollar and let restaurants know you wont buy there if they use them…send a physical letter to your MLA, and participate in the community. Because your actions have a ripple affect. Don’t always buy into the ‘eco-friendly’ labels…always do your own research to inform yourself instead of suspending critical thought to some perceived authority, there is simply too much greed and corruption for you to trust anyone.

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Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any health care agency or government entity in Canada or the United States.

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