The unpleasant truth of plastic straws

straws 2019

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Jonathan Salim, a medical student from Pelita Harapan University, Indonesia. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Since its invention, straw has become a useful tool in quenching your insatiable thirst. It helps in delivering beverages into your oral cavity, hence drinking. However, unbeknownst to the public, straws utilization actually carries huge environmental and healthcare risks as well.

Study on factors influencing aspiration during swallowing in healthy older adults, revealed that Penetration and Aspiration Scores are significantly higher (p = 0.04) in those who use straw. Cup has 4.63% decrement on penetration rate and 0.45% on aspiration rate compared to straw. Furthermore, straw can also induce aerophagia, which triggers moderate-to-severe abdominal pain, frequent belching, nausea and/or vomiting.

Structurally speaking, straw is composed on lethal components such as Bisphenol A (BPA) and Polypropylene (PP). A test conducted by Newbold et al. portrays that early exposure of BPA (BPA-0.1 and BPA-1) in mice has increased the number of preneoplastic and neoplastic lesion in the reproductive tract (p = 0.01 and p = 0.03 respectively).

Similarly, Kharrazian et al. shown that in human trials BPA have an effect in autoimmune disease pathogenesis. The chemical act on biotransformation pathway to reduced glutathione, which led to activation of NF-kB (a stimulus precursor for systemic immunity), and thus autoimmune overexpression and illness.

Likewise, BPA and PP also have been proven to express estrogenic activity (EA) with the estrogen receptor dependent pathways. The agonist and/or antagonist mechanism will trigger the ERa and ERb which induce modulation in immune system as secondary signaling. Eventually, the chemicals accumulation can lead to increase risk in infertility, precocious puberty, hormone-dependent tumor, and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Aside from the putrid healthcare issue, straws been vindicated on environmental turmoil.

Li H et al study that just in China, >1 billion tons of straw are produced. Nevertheless, enormous amounts are discarded without effectively used. Market research firm of Freedonia Group reported that the U.S. used about 390 million straws daily.

Those absurd straws quantity scar the nature with its toughness to be recycled, biodegraded, and proneness to wildlife damage. Straws are mainly composed of type 5 plastic, polypropylene. This kind of material is hard to be recycled due to its polymer composition unsuitable on common recycling program.

Moreover, numerous plastic straws types are not biodegradable, just degradable. The straws can be broken down into tiny invisible molecules; however, the molecules cannot be digested by microorganism and recycled back to nature. Nonetheless, the time for the degradation process is very substantial as it needs 200-1000 years with an average of 450 years.

Do you know that you are killing wild animals when littering? Ocean Conservancy Trash Information and Data for Education and Solutions (TIDES) depict that plastics are among the top ten ocean trash with 1489945 (3.14%) being straws and stirrers. The vast amount of straws and other plastics pose immediate threat to the marine life.

Chiefly, the harmful healthcare and environmental issues strongly paint the horrid impact of plastics and straws within global consumption. Let’s make a change by reducing straw usage. A step for a better future.

About the author

Jonathan Salim is from CIMSA–ISMKI Indonesia. In 2018/2019, he is entrusted with the position of SCORE project coordinator (PC) in an active NMO of IFMSA, CIMSA-ISMKI. During his term, he did research and clinical exchanges at the ophthalmology department of Semmelweis University, Hungary. Simultaneously, for his academic background, his medical clinical years shall begin on January 2019 last quarter at Pelita Harapan University, Indonesia.

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