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SVI 20. October 2023 0 Comments

To do something good for the environment and their own health, many are increasingly turning to products made of paper or bamboo when it comes to disposable tableware. But the supposedly better alternative is often not at all.

Publication of the Stuttgarter Nachrichten:
Antwerp/Gothenburg – Instead of the banned plastic straws, many restaurants now serve paper straws. The however can be for environment and health, a research team warns in the journal “Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A.” According to the report, many supposedly environmentally friendly drinking straws made of paper or bamboo contain long-lasting and potentially toxic chemicals known as PFAS. The sale of plastic drinking straws has been banned in the EU since July 3, 2021.

The group led by Thimo Groffen of the University of Antwerp had used drinking straws from 39 in Belgium available brands examined. PFASs were detected in 18 of 20 paper straws tested. Also, in four out of five bamboo straws, three out of four plastic straws, and even two out of five glass drinking straws, the scientistsreplicate such substances in varying amounts. Only in stainless steel straws no PFAS were found.

From the straw into the drink

Using a special mass spectrometry technique, the researchers found trifluoroacetic acid and trifluoromethanesulfonic acid, among others. “Both chemicals are highly soluble in water, so there is a risk that they will transfer from the straw into the beverage,” the researchers explain. Whether and to what extent these and other PFASs from the drinking straws are absorbed by humans must now be investigated in more detail, he said.

PFAS – per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds – are used, among other things, to protect paper straws from soaking. The study authors emphasize, however, that the potentially hazardous substances do not necessarily have to have been deliberately added in the manufacturing process. They could also enter the product through contaminated starting material or process water.

“Straws made from plant-based materials such as paper and bamboo are often promoted as more sustainable and environmentally friendly than those made from plastic,” Groffen said. “However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true.” Small amounts of PFAS, he said, are not harmful in themselves, but could increase the chemical load already present in the body. “The most sustainable alternative seems to be stainless steel straws, which can be reused, do not contain PFAS and can be fully recycled,” the team concludes.

A research team at the University of Gothenburg has been looking into paper cups as a substitute for disposable plastic cups. Since paper is neither grease nor water resistant, it must be provided with a surface coating when used as packaging material for food. Often, this plastic film is made of polylactide (PLA), a type of bioplastic made from renewable resources such as corn.

Microplastics from bioplastics

In the study presented in the journal “Environmental Pollution”, the team led by Bethanie Carney Almroth exposed mosquito larvae of the species Chironomus riparius to water and sediment in which parts of cups and lids made of polypropylene or polystyrene as well as polylactide and paper had been lying for one to four weeks. Accordingly, Chironomus riparius is a model species for toxicological studies and represents an important group of aquatic organisms that are critical to ecosystems. “All of the cups had a negative effect on mosquito larval growth,” Carney Almroth said.

Accordingly, various harmful substances are released from the material into the environment. “Paper-based food packaging may contain high levels of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds,” the study states, among other things. The effect was greater the longer the material had been in the water or sediment. “Bioplastics contain at least as many chemicals as conventional plastics,” Carney Almroth said. In addition, bioplastics do not degrade effectively, resulting microplastics are absorbed by living organisms as with other plastics.

“Paper packaging also poses a potential health risk compared to other materials, and it is becoming more common,” the scientist pointed out. After the Second World War, disposable products came onto the market and were advertised in large campaigns – humanity must now move away from this wrong path again. It’s time to say goodbye to the throwaway lifestyle – for the environment and for our own health.

Many PFAS resistant and hardly degradable

PFASs are man-made chemicals that have applications in many fields. They make textiles breathable and water-repellent, paper dirt-, grease- and water-repellent, and improve the spreading properties of firefighting foam. PFASs are also sometimes used in food packaging.

Because many PFAS are very persistent and hardly degradable, they are also called eternity chemicals. In the environment, they accumulate more and more. PFAS have been linked to several health problems, including lower birth weight in infants, thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol, liver damage, kidney cancer and testicular cancer.

Some PFASs are already widely banned because they are considered hazardous. “Of the relatively few PFASs that have been well studied, most are considered to be of moderate to high toxicity, especially to child development,” according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). For the vast majority of PFASs, it is not yet known how they affect humans and the environment. Many experts believe that at least some of them have negative properties.

Link to the original report