Paper or Plastic? Neither, Says New Study by the University of Gothenburg
August 29, 2023
In the fight against single-use plastic, paper cups have often been hailed as an eco-friendlier alternative. However, a recent study from the University of Gothenburg suggests that this alternative might not be as harmless as we think.
The research, led by Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth, examined the impact of paper and plastic cups on the larvae of butterfly mosquitoes. The team discovered that the cups, left in wet sediment and water, leached harmful chemicals, stunting the growth of the larvae.
So, why are paper cups potentially damaging? The answer lies in the thin plastic film that lines them. This film, often composed of bioplastics like polylactide (PLA), protects the paper from liquids. While bioplastics are derived from renewable resources and are considered biodegradable, they can still be toxic and don’t effectively break down in the environment.
The study’s findings are a stark reminder that the shift away from single-use plastic should not simply involve replacing one problematic material with another. Instead, sustainable and non-toxic alternatives should be prioritised, and lifestyle changes, such as using a reusable mug for takeaway coffee, should be encouraged.
The research further supports the ongoing efforts by organisations like SCEPT (Scientists Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty) towards minimizing plastic production and maintaining transparency in the industry. As the world’s nations negotiate a binding agreement to end plastic pollution, this study provides critical scientific evidence to guide their decisions.
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