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| 1 minute read

Paper, plastic, or steel? Straws ... yes, straws, highlight some of the challenges food and beverage companies face in the modern era.

As an avid movie-goer, I regularly encounter the paper straw. While I bemoan its lack of functionality -- it usually disintegrates about an hour into the film -- I get why it's there. A few years ago, the EU, US, and other countries decided that one of the ways to tackle to the problem of plastic pollution was to replace plastic straws with a paper alternative. Paper straws are more biodegradable, usually taking about two to six weeks to completely decompose, as opposed to over a hundred years for plastic straws. And the food and beverage industry lead the way in the conversion from plastic to paper.

But now some researchers in Europe have discovered that a large majority (69%) of these paper straws are coated with PFAS, the so-called "forever chemicals" that have been associated with human health risks. Ironically, the PFAS chemicals are used to ostensibly make the straws more water-repellent which, in my opinion, they don't do very well. Plus, most of the scientific research on PFAS suggests that these chemicals barely break down over time, hence the "forever chemicals" shorthand often used to refer to them.

So, what is a movie-buff like me, and the food and beverage industry, supposed to do? According to researchers, stainless steel straws are the best alternative. They can be reused, they do not break down during use, do not contain PFAS, and can be recycled. And for me personally, I have a bunch of them. My spouse has been bringing steel straws to the movies for years!

In 2021, the EU moved to tackle plastic pollution by enforcing a ban on certain single-use plastics, ranging from single-use plastic plates to cutlery, balloon sticks and straws. Food and beverage manufacturers responded by replacing single-use plastic with more sustainable alternatives. In the case of straws, paper has proved a popular choice ... But fresh research out of Europe suggests paper straws may not be the panacea originally thought to be, both in terms of both environmental and human health.


food and beverage, straws, pfas, sustainability