In a world increasingly concerned about plastic waste, paper straws have been hailed as the eco-friendly alternative. However, a recent study suggests that these straws may not be as green as we think, and could even pose health risks.

The Study’s Findings

Belgian researchers conducted an analysis of 39 brands of drinking straws, testing for the presence of synthetic chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants, the study found that PFAS were most commonly present in paper and bamboo straws.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS are synthetic chemicals used in a variety of products to make them resistant to water, heat, and stains. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they break down very slowly and can persist in the environment for thousands of years. PFAS have been linked to a range of health issues, including thyroid disease, liver damage, and certain types of cancer.

The Eco-Friendly Misconception

Dr. Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist involved in the study, pointed out that straws made from plant-based materials like paper and bamboo are often marketed as sustainable alternatives to plastic. However, the presence of PFAS challenges this notion.

Global Impact

Countries like the UK and Belgium have banned single-use plastic products, including straws, making plant-based alternatives increasingly popular. Yet, the study found that 90% of paper straw brands tested contained PFAS, raising questions about their environmental impact.

Health Risks

While the concentrations of PFAS in straws are low and pose limited immediate risk, these chemicals can accumulate in the body over time. “Small amounts of PFAS can add to the chemical load already present in the body,” warns Dr. Groffen.

What Can You Do?

The study suggests that stainless steel straws, which were found to be free of PFAS, are a safer and more eco-friendly option. Alternatively, consumers might consider avoiding straws altogether.


The study serves as a wake-up call about the complexities of making eco-friendly choices. While paper straws may seem like a step in the right direction, it’s crucial to consider the hidden impacts they may have on both our health and the environment.

Here are some other things you can do to reduce your exposure to PFAS:

  • Avoid food and drinks that are packaged in PFAS-coated containers.
  • Cook with non-stick cookware that is labeled as PFAS-free.
  • Use a water filter that removes PFAS.
  • Get your drinking water tested for PFAS.

By making these small changes, you can help to protect your health and the environment.