In recent months, progressives have gathered together in protest against the use of one time plastic straws. Videos of turtles having straws pulled out of their noses tug at the heartstrings of many Americans, but in the process of protecting our oceans, we fail to protect a large community of our own nation.
According to figures presented by the United Nations, nearly nine million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, killing marine life and polluting natural bodies of water. Straws add up to about two thousand tons of that plastic waste, in total about four percent of plastic trash. Though it is only a single fraction of pollution spilled into our oceans, straws have become a symbol of waste consumers can feasibly rally behind and feel like they are making a difference. In response to public outcry, companies such as Starbucks and Hyatt are phasing out straws while Seattle, Vancouver, Santa Barbara, and many other cities have banned or are thinking of banning plastic straws.
“While I think that it is is still important to see the much larger impact gas guzzling companies and large scale corporations have on the environment,” said junior Emily Vesper. “There are many things that we as people can do now to make our own impact and help in our own way. The straw ban presents one such opportunity. A step in the right direction, I would say.”
Bans on plastic straws may present an incremental step in a fight against pollution, however, not everyone is ecstatic about the new push.
For many people with disabilities, going without plastic straws is not a question about whether or not they care about dolphins or sea turtles; more so it is about necessity. Alternatives to plastic straws do exist – paper, biodegradable plastics, as well as reusable metal or silicone straws, however, these alternatives are often not suitable for consumers with disabilities. Paper straws and similar biodegradable options fall apart too quickly or are easy for people with limited jaw control to bite through while silicone/metal straws are not flexible and require washes after each use, something people with mobility challenges may not be able to complete as well.
“One need should not trump another,’” said James Hicks of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities in a CNN interview. “The need for good environmental products should not trump what’s needed for people with disabilities, and vice versa.”
Flexible straws provide a universal design available to everyone; disabled or otherwise. Initially made to assist people in hospitals, straws are a necessity for some, but, rather than support, advocates pushing for flexible straw bans are faced with intense criticism. Both animals and people deserve to be looked after, meaning a greater inclusivity in the actions being carried out.
“I’m not saying that the straw ban is not good,“ said Anonymous. “I just think that we also need to focus on greater issues and include all kinds of people into the discussion.”
Rather than shaming people with disabilities, we must go higher up the supply chain, rethinking when and how plastics are produced across the board and who is causing the most damage to the environment. Restaurants could have a few straws on hold for consumers who require them, a more lenient ban yet effective all the same.