Graphic by Addison
At the very beginning of 2019, a new ban popped up in the news: Washington D.C started to ban straws in restaurants and other businesses. In a time when pollution is out of control, this was a big deal. Since then, more and more of these bans have been established within the United States. The faces of this movement are the sea turtles, and the public loves it. Straws seem to be a fairly easy thing to kick out of our lives, and it would help reduce plastic in the oceans. But as of late, it has come to light that banning straws won’t be the complete solution for our oceans and even worse, it can have a negative impact on people with disabilities.
According to the World Resources Institute, about 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans on a yearly basis. Although less than 1% of the trash is straws, banning them has lead the movement. The people and government of the United States need to direct their attention to other plastics that are doing far more harm than straws, such as take out boxes, plastic and paper bags, plastic bottles, and even bottle caps. The fact alone that action is being taken and awareness is being spread about our polluted oceans is great, but how the straw ban is hurting the disabled isn’t being addressed.
The National Service Inclusion Project states that about 48.9 million people in the United States have a disability, whether it be severe or non-severe. More and more often, there have been articles and Twitter threads about people with disabilities being refused straws in situations such as going out to eat. Sometimes it’s because they don’t “look disabled”, while other times it’s because that restaurant has completely banned straws. Regardless of why, people are being stuck in uncomfortable and unfair situations. Plastic, bendable straws make it much easier for people with disabilities to take pills and hydrate themselves. While there are a handful of good alternatives to plastic straws, they may not all be safe or as handy. Metal, glass, bamboo, acrylic, and pasta and rice straws can easily put the user in harm’s way, especially if their disabilities makes them shake or bob their heads uncontrollably. A few examples of one of these disabilities could be Parkinson's, hyperthyroidism, or essential tremors. Paper and biodegradable ones pose a choking threat and can’t be used for hot drinks. A lot of these options are expensive, are hard to sanitize, and cause an allergy risk. On top of this, most of these straws are not bendable, which is something that many people rely heavily upon.
The best alternative I have been able to find so far, after lots of research and working at a group home for people with disabilities, is silicone straws. They can be bitten on, cleaned fairly easily, aren’t expensive, and come bent. Some downsides are allergies, and they can be springy and cause splashback if, for example, a shaky person loses control and the straw is yanked from their mouth. Though it may not be the most environmentally friendly thing, bendable, single use plastic straws are necessary for lots of people and they should be allowed to use them at any time to hydrate themselves.
So yes, banning straws will help, but we need more focus on plastics that should be replaced or banned that are more often being found in our oceans. There should also be a bigger focus on finding better recycling technology to prevent plastics from entering our waters. The straw bans need to be more flexible to allow people with disabilities to use them and nourish themselves, just like everyone else.
Katelyn Dickens is a 20 year old student at Lake Michigan College, majoring in English Writing with the hopes of publishing her own poetry book one day. She loves to watch Doctor Who and can’t start her day without a hot cup of coffee and snuggles from her two pets, Vincent and Maverick. Katelyn is a huge advocate for marine conservation and is an Ambassador for SandCloud who donate a portion of their profits to help their mission of saving marine life.