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The Last Straw

The Last Straw

Introduction

There are surely more than 5 types of straws out there, but in this article we will be discussing straw controversy within the disabled community, and the environmental impacts of using straws. One of the best types of straws for disabled folk is the plastic straw. However, this comes with quite the price. 

 

In just 2010 alone, it was estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic were found in the ocean. A lot of this plastic is single use, meaning once its purpose has been served, it's thrown out or recycled. However, sometimes they aren’t thrown out properly or recycled properly, and then end up in the ocean. Some plastic keeps on floating, while others sink to the bottom and wreck habit’s under the waves. Straws account for 0.025% of the plastic in the ocean. Since they are such a commonly found thing, activists decided to latch onto them for representatives of plastic in the ocean. Obviously, they aren’t the only plastic found, but since they were something that people use even without thinking about, it was thought to be the best idea. However, a problem with this is that people start thinking about it. And it isn’t bad at all to think about the amount of plastic in the ocean, however, the primary focus appeared to just be straws, when according to the National Ocean Service, fishing nets of some sort (often turned into microplastics, which are smaller pieces of once larger pieces of plastic) are one of the largest factors of plastic in the ocean. So while those activists had the right idea, the attention seemed to just be on the impact of straws in the ocean (which of course should still be recognized), but the after effects of this activism has led to problems within the disabled community, and the recognition of other types of plastic in the ocean. 

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Plastic Straws

Within the disabled community, there are some people who need straws in order to eat their food or sip their drinks. However, with restaurants doing away with plastic straws in order to help reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans, possibly the one thing that can allow them to eat out is being taken away from them. Being able to provide plastic straws for disabled people in all restaurants needs to be required. Other options such as requesting them to bring their own straws, or charging them for straws, is ableist. They will have to remember to bring that straw, and add it to the list of other challenges and things they need to remember. And charging them? Charging them for something that allows them to be able to dine out is completely cruel. It sends the message that in order for disabled peoples to be welcome into restaurants, they need to be able to pay extra for the thing that allows them to eat there. 

 

An argument to my statement that plastic straws should be required to be in all restaurants for disabled people may be “What about the ocean? What about the turtles?”

 

My proposition for this is that you have to request to have a straw. This eliminates the amount of plastic straws in use and also provides them for people with disabilities. Yes, restaurants will always need to keep a stack of straws in stock, and yes this could further environmental impacts, but if they area restaurant that can provide compostable plastic straws made of organic factors, and their nearby compost center is one that takes these types of straws, that problem will be solved. Although it will be more costly, it will be better for the environment, and also provide the same level of sturdiness of non-sustainable straws. Another idea in addition to the request for straws is to challenge straw companies to come up with a straw that is eco-friendly and disability friendly. 

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Bamboo Straws

An alternative to plastic straws is to be able to provide bamboo straws in restaurants. These straws are reusable, but more expensive than plastic straws to buy in bulk. Compared to a pack of 500 plastic straws that you can buy for 8.99 (via Amazon), for the same price you can get only 12 bamboo straws. Not only are they not very cost effective, but they are hard to clean, and since bamboo is absorbent, the liquids the straws are used in can soften, warp and crack the straws, meaning more money would also have to be spent to replace them. However, in addition to money wise, bamboo straws pose injury risks for disabled folk. 

Metal and Glass Straws

The Center for Disability Rights also states that metal straws pose injury risks for people with disabilities. Metal straws in general are also more expensive than buying bulk plastic straws, and similarly to the bamboo straws they are hard to clean. Glass straws hold a higher risk of breaking, which could, again, pose injury risks to those with disabilities. 

Silicone Straws

Although silicon straws are soft and would most likely not pose any injury risks, they are hard to clean and not exactly pleasant to use. “Silicone straws are often not flexible — one of the most important features for people with mobility challenges. Reusable straws need to be washed, which not all people with disabilities can do easily.” (NPR)

Conclusion

At the end of the day, and as unfortunate as it is to say this, reusable straws are not for people with disabilities. Restaurants need to be able to provide plastic straws for disabled people because, as NPR writes, “going without plastic straws isn't a question of how much they care about dolphins or sea turtles; it can be a matter of life or death.” Is there really a feasible option at this point that is environmentally friendly, and as effective as plastic straws for disabled people? No, not yet, but the Center for Disability Rights has come to a conclusion that sparks thought. “The focus must shift from banning straws to pressuring the manufacturers and corporations to create an environmentally and disability friendly alternative. Even better, environmental and disability groups should work together to come up with more impactful ways of improving the environment.”

 

 If you expand the picture even bigger, the 3 key groups that need straws are people with disabilities, elderly people, and young children (5 and under). So if the focus for the creation of a straw that is eco-friendly and disability friendly is aimed towards people with disabilities, it would be highly unlikely that young children and elderly people couldn't use those straws as well. In addition to this, activists should shift the attention of plastics in the ocean to discarded fishing nets and other fishing gear. Straws in the ocean shouldn’t be completely forgotten, but they aren’t the main cause either. Being able to encourage people to realize that just stopping their usage of plastic straws isn't enough and that their activism can’t end there, and further educating them on all types of plastic found in the ocean could possibly be a step in the right direction towards reducing plastic found in our oceans.

Footnote

1.  According to The Center for Disability Rights, “Compostable straws made of other natural materials increase the likelihood of allergic reactions, which can be deadly, and often require special processing to compost safely and correctly.” 

Resources

Aspegren, Elinor. “Plastic Straws Are Trash. Are There Alternatives That Don't Suck?” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 16 Aug. 2019, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/16/plastic-straw-alternatives-often-bad-planet-people-disabilities/1761397001/

Danovich, Tove, and Maria Godoy. “Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible.” NPR, NPR, 11 July 2018, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/07/11/627773979/why-people-with-disabilities-want-bans-on-plastic-straws-to-be-more-flexible

Hirsh, Sophie. “How Plastic Straws Affect the Ocean and Sea Turtles.” Green Matters, Green Matters, 14 Aug. 2019, www.greenmatters.com/p/how-plastic-straws-affect-ocean-turtles#:~:text=According%20to%20Phys%20and%20the,0.025%20percent%20of%20ocean%20plastic

 

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “A Guide to Plastic in the Ocean.” https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/marinedebris/plastics-in-the-ocean.html .

Vallely, Erin. “Center for Disability Rights.” Grasping at Straws: The Ableism of the Straw Ban – Center for Disability Rights, https://cdrnys.org/blog/disability-dialogue/grasping-at-straws-the-ableism-of-the-straw-ban/