as health-conscious consumers seek to reduce their exposure to potentially cancer-causing plastic compounds in their food.
From smoothie-slurping bloggers worrying that plastic straws will “leach trace amounts of toxic chemicals into food and into your body” to environmentally conscious sippers
bent on “saving … sea creatures from ingesting little teeny tiny pieces
of plastic,” it seems the glass straw will save our health and that of our planet.
Drawing my attention to this new phenomenon, a reader recently suggested
that instead of drinking coffee through the plastic lids that coffee
houses pop on paper cups, we should sip it through glass straws poked
through said plastic lids. But does this really solve the problem of BPA
and plastic food containers? Unfortunately, no.
For purely esthetic considerations, I’d be the first to favor glass
straws: they’re beautiful, natural, reusable and therefore
environment-friendly. Manufacturers even claim that they’re
shatter-proof, though I wouldn’t want to test this promise on my kids
(especially as they retail at a hefty $7 to $10 apiece!).
long as we continue drinking coffee, tea and other hot beverages from
plastic-lined paper cups, glass straws won’t make much difference. You
see, it’s the paper cup that’s the main culprit, not the plastic straw.
cups intended for hot drinks are laminated with a liner made of
polyethylene that helps keep beverages warm and prevents the paper from
getting soggy and leaking. However, polyethylene has estrogenic
properties much like BPA, and these so-called “xenoestrogens” (man-made
chemicals that mimic the natural human hormones) are linked to a growing number of health problems, such as breast, ovarian, testicular, and prostate cancers, early puberty in girls, reduced sperm counts, altered functions of reproductive organs, obesity and behavioral problems.
A US government funded study published last year in the science journal Environmental Health Perspectives
found that the vast majority of commercially available food-grade
plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and
polyethylene terephthalate, leach estrogen-like compounds into the foods
and drinks they contain—even those that are marked as being “BPA-free.”
matters worse for the paper cup, it’s not environmentally friendly. Its
plastic lining prevents the cup from being recycled, and so every paper
cup that is manufactured and lined with plastic ends up in a landfill.
There, the paper will decompose, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas
with 23 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide, according to Sustainability is Sexy,
a Seattle-based organization that seeks to “reduce the bitter
environmental, social and financial impact of disposable coffee cups”.
here’s my bold recommendation: just do away with paper cups and glass
straws altogether. To enjoy a hot drink, all you need is an
old-fashioned cup made from ceramic, china or glass and a few minutes to
prepare and enjoy your drink.
When you look at Mediterranean food traditions (which I celebrate in Zest for Life),
people in France, Italy and Spain drink coffee mostly as a treat and a
gentle stimulant (one in the morning to get going, another after lunch
to help stimulate digestion, and occasionally a third as an afternoon
pick-me-up), not as a source of hydration.
They drink small
quantities of strong coffee out of tiny espresso cups like the ones
pictured above. Because these small coffees don't take long to get
through, most people sit at a table or stand a bar and enjoy their
beverage without doing anything else (e.g. eating, driving, running for a
train, shopping, etc.). For this reason, plastic lids aren't necessary.
If you must
carry coffee with you, I suggest you prepare it at home and fill it
into a stainless-steel thermos where it will keep warm for hours and not
spill if you have to run or drive. I do this when I take long road
trips and it works beautifully: I get to drink my favorite brand of
coffee from a non-reactive container at a fraction of the cost of a cup
of coffee from a coffee shop and without needing to use cardboard,
plastic or glass straws. It's better for the environment too, as this
generates no garbage except for a few (biodegradable) coffee grinds.