Paper cups, believed to be benign, harbour toxic chemicals that can inflict harm on ecosystems and living organisms much like their plastic counterparts, according to a latest study.
THE DARK SIDE OF PAPER
The study from the University of Gothenburg reveals that paper cups are not as innocent as they appear. They often feature a thin plastic lining to render them resistant to moisture. This layer, typically composed of a bio plastic called polylactide (PLA), safeguards the paper from becoming soaked by the liquids it holds. Although bio plastics are hailed for their potential to degrade more rapidly than conventional plastics, this study suggests a less optimistic reality.
THE PERSISTENT THREAT
Even as the scientific community and society at large grapple with the menace of plastic pollution, the study underscores that the battle is far from over. PLA, touted as a greener solution due to its renewable origins, still poses a potential threat. Bio plastics, including PLA, are not immune to toxicity concerns and can contribute to the accumulation of micro plastics in nature, exposing animals and potentially humans to their detrimental effects.
A NEW CULPRIT: BIOPLASTICS’ HIDDEN TOXINS
“Bio plastics do not break down effectively when they end up in the environment, in water. There may be a risk that the plastic remains in nature and resulting micro plastics can be ingested by animals and humans, just as other plastics do. Bio plastics contain at least as many chemicals as conventional plastic,” says Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth, an environmental science expert at the University of Gothenburg.
FROM THE LAB TO OUR LIVES
The potential ramifications extend beyond the environment to human health. Chemicals in plastics, whether traditional or biodegradable, have been linked to toxicity concerns. Paper packaging, touted as an alternative to plastics, presents its own set of challenges. The study underscores the need for vigilance in understanding the full spectrum of materials’ impact on health and the environment.
TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE SHIFT
The study prompts reflection on our disposable lifestyles and calls for a return to more sustainable practices. Using one’s own mug for take-away beverages or opting for porcelain cups when time permits could minimize the reliance on single-use items.
PAVING THE WAY FOR CHANGE
Amidst the plastics crisis, international efforts are underway to combat the proliferation of plastic pollution. The United Nations is engaged in negotiations for a binding agreement to address this issue. Professor Carney Almroth, a member of the Scientists Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty (SCEPT), stresses the urgency of minimizing plastic production and advocating transparency within the plastics industry.
NAVIGATING THE ROAD AHEAD
As the world grapples with the complexity of materials and their environmental impact, this study offers a stark reminder that the path to a greener future is fraught with challenges. It calls for a comprehensive approach that not only considers the immediate environmental benefits of alternative materials but also delves into their long-term repercussions for both ecosystems and human health.