We have all probably seen the video: a sea turtle with a plastic drinking straw stuck up its nose. The environmental impact of human trash and waste is often heartbreaking, but it’s something we typically don’t (or choose not to) think about. However, over the past few weeks, many cities and businesses have pledged to ban plastic straws completely. Seattle, for example, implemented a ban on plastic straws and utensils that started July 1st. Other cities and businesses, like Starbucks, are aiming to follow suit in the upcoming years. Many people are supportive and thrilled about this movement. However, there’s a portion of the population that is fighting against the plastic straw ban: the disabled community. Let’s take a look at why.
“Don’t Ban Plastic Straws” | The Disabled Speak Up
The sea turtle video is enough to make anyone reconsider their use of plastic straws. For disabled people, though, it’s not that easy. Going without plastic straws isn’t a matter of how much they care about the environment; it can be a matter of life or death. Many individuals with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or muscular dystrophy need a plastic straw to hydrate. For them, no straw equals no drinking. Unfortunately, there are often rebuttals to the disabled community’s request to not ban plastic straws…
Aren’t There Alternatives to Plastic Straws?
For most people, yes. For disabled people, maybe not. Sure, there are all types of alternatives to plastic straws – paper ones, biodegradable ones, and even reusable straws made out of silicone or metal. In an open letter to the Seattle City Council, Disability Rights Washington (DRW) explains why plastic straws are better than the alternatives:
“Other types of straws simply do not offer the combination of strength, flexibility, and safety that plastic straws do. Metal straws become hot or cold and offer a risk of injury. Some people…will bite through paper straws, and they dissolve if the person takes too long to drink, and so forth. If a person already cannot physically drink without the aid of a straw, then obvioiusly they don’t have the ability to clean a reusable straw.”
Additionally, requiring disabled people to carry their own straws is an inconvenience. In their letter, DRW emphasizes that “requiring people with disabilities to treat a routine fast food trip as something that requires planning and supplies is an unplanned failure in equity, when these restaurants could just as easily offer them upon request to individuals who need them.” All in all, plastic straws are the best option for those with limited mobility and/or have trouble raising a cup to their mouth.
It’s no secret that the ocean is filled with plastic trash, but how much of it is straws? When compared to other types of plastic, straws may seem rather insignificant in terms of trash. One report suggests that plastic straws make up more than 7 percent of the plastics found in the United States. On the other hand, plastic bottle caps account for nearly 17 percent. So, why is the focus on straws when there are other, more significant plastic items out there? In an interview with CNN, Kate Melges, the plastics campaigner at Greenpeace USA, says that she comes across many more food wrappers and plastic bottles than straws when she’s monitoring ocean pollution. Melges believes that straws are “a relatively easy item to eliminate” because “they’re not a necessity for every person.” For people with disabilities, though, they can be a necessity.
Hopefully, restaurants and businesses will continue to supply plastic straws on request to those who need them. However, only time will tell.
As an allied health professional, what do you think? Should cities and companies ban plastic straws? Share your thoughts in the comments below!