Should we ban plastic straws?

There’s been a lot of talk about whether restaurants, cafes, bars, and other public spaces should stop providing plastic straws, and whether they should be banned altogether. Public outcry over seemingly unnecessary plastic goods is no new thing, and the ‘convenience’ items under fire almost always happen to be things that are an accessible choice for the disabled community.

You see it a lot with prepackaged meals or peeled and sliced fruit. People are quick to point out how terrible it is to throw plastic on a peeled orange when it ‘comes with its own packaging’ already. Words like ‘lazy’ and ‘ridiculous’ get thrown around a lot without ever stopping to consider the fact that pre-prepared food allows disabled people to eat healthier things that would otherwise not be an option for them.

The focus has now turned towards plastic straws. For abled people, they’re pretty insignificant. For my brother and I, they determine whether or not we’re able to have a drink. Neither of us can lift a cup to our mouth or tip the glass enough to be able to drink without a straw. The same goes for many disabled people – without a straw, they’re unable to drink.

Everyone is quick to recommend a paper or stainless steel straw, but those don’t work for many disabled people. I care about the planet as much as anyone else, and it breaks my heart to think about all the trash floating around in the ocean. I still want to be able to have a glass of water when I go out for lunch. A piece of plastic can be both bad for the environment AND have an important purpose at the same time.

Outcry over seemingly unnecessary plastic goods is no new thing, and the ‘convenience’ items under fire almost always happen to be things that are an accessible choice for the disabled community. You see it a lot with prepackaged meals or peeled and sliced fruit. The focus has now turned towards plastic straws.
[MG: a white reusable Starbucks cup with a plastic straw coming out of the lid. My laptop is in the background.]
I’m all for finding an alternative to plastic items, but only if disabled people aren’t suffering because of it. The problem with these debates is that everyone is so quick to say ‘we don’t need that, get rid of it’ instead of saying ‘how can we make this better?’. It’d be so easy to just stop using straws and pat yourself on the back for doing your part in saving the planet – all while Instagramming about it from your plastic phone, driving home in your car filled with plastic, and making a coffee at home from a plastic kcup.Accessibility isn’t a convenience for us and it shouldn’t be optional. The only reason why these items are first on the chopping block is that the majority of people don’t require them and often assume that no one else does either.

When disabled people bring this issue up, the first response is usually ‘if you need it, bring your own’. My question is this: why does the burden always seem to shift onto disabled people?

If you can’t slice an apple yourself, don’t buy apples. Or go around asking strangers until maybe someone agrees to do it for you. If a building has stairs and no ramp, just find somewhere else to go. If a movie theater doesn’t offer subtitles or assistive devices, wait until it comes on dvd. When a restaurant doesn’t offer straws, just buy and bring your own.

It sounds like no big deal for me to just buy some reusable straws, but what if I forget them? Should I just not have anything to drink that day? Reusable straws can also be difficult to clean, especially when you have a small kitchen that’s not wheelchair accessible or you have limited hand strength and function.

Yeah, I can ask for help with a drink. But I ask for help all day long. I can’t go to the bathroom alone or go to bed by myself whenever I feel like it. Taking a sip by myself doesn’t sound like much, but every single little moment of independence is incredibly valuable to me and I’d prefer to keep as many as I can.

Also, have you ever had someone else try to tip a full glass of water into your mouth without it spilling on you? Me either.

Every day I have to think about things like parking spaces, doorways, table heights, steps, and curbs. Whether I should order a sandwich or a salad, because if the sandwich is too thick and heavy I won’t be able to eat it but if the forks are too clunky I’ll have a hard time with the salad, too. If I’m going to pay for a drink, I shouldn’t have to be the one to make sure it’s accessible, too.

Before accessibility, disabled people were frequently institutionalized and died young from preventable causes – and that wasn’t very long ago, either. With that in mind, is it really a surprise when we fight back so hard on things like a plastic straw debate?

Include disabled people in your activism, because together we can find solutions that help the planet but won’t harm vulnerable communities.

2 thoughts on “Should we ban plastic straws?”

  • Such incredibly important points. I really don’t think independence and disability were given one iota of thought when deciding the future of plastic straws. It probably just seems so trivial so people who would say ‘manage without them’ but obviously it’s just not that simple. They’re a practical, hugely important tool for many people. Totally agree with what you’ve said. Fantastic post!

    • Thank you so much! I agree, I think it was totally overlooked. I know the importance of straws might not occur to someone, but it’s troubling how even now that the disability community has reached out and explained (repeatedly) we’re met with hostility and just sort of dismissed. Thank you for reading!

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