‘Forever’ chemicals harmful to both humans and the environment have been found in most brands of paper straws, Belgian researchers say.

Cyprus banned many single-use plastic items such as plastic straws back in October 2022, leading to a surge in the use of ‘eco-friendly’ paper alternatives.

But a new study has concluded that many of these alternatives contain long-lasting and potentially toxic chemicals – known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Most brands tested by the Belgian scientists – 27 out of 39, or 69 per cent – contained PFAS, with 18 different PFAS detected in total.

The forced switch to alternative straws has left a bad taste for many, as consistent complaints of the paper straws turning mushy put many people off.

But that’s exactly what the synthetic chemicals are aimed at preventing – by making them water resistant.

Asked to comment on the recent study, Efi Xanthou of the Greens party said that the issue again draws attention to the culture of single use.

“It may be that in the rush for various businesses to find replacements for the single-use plastics they have come up with products that may not have been fully tested,” she told the Cyprus Mail.

“Let’s start being realistic about reducing our footprint on this Earth,” Xanthou emphasised.

“The main point is that we’re trying to reduce and change the use of single-use culture, so businesses that are offering such single-use straws should be looking into alternatives.”

Indeed, the authors of the study advised that people use stainless steel straws or avoid using straws all together – the latter point causing further confusion on the matter.

Xanthou agrees that there are more viable alternatives: “For instance, you have perfectly good stainless-steel straws and silicone straws – that are free of PCPs – so let’s stop the single-use culture.”

Dr Thimo Groffen, an environmental scientist at the University of Antwerp, who was involved in the study, said that straws made from plant-based materials such as paper and bamboo are often advertised as being more sustainable and eco-friendly than those made from plastic.

“However, the presence of PFAS in these straws means that’s not necessarily true.

“Small amounts of PFAS, while not harmful in themselves, can add to the chemical load already present in the body,” he said.

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants.

Back in October 2022, Greens leader Charalambos Theopemptou reminded the public of the EU 2019/904 directive which sets out the bans of many single use plastic products.

The law, necessary to harmonise Cyprus with the EU directive on reducing the impact of plastic products on the environment, was passed earlier this year, although the EU directive should have been transposed into law by July 2021.