So yes, plastic straws are not really the huge threat to the environment some environmental activists are making them out to be. Yet, the institutional ban many countries and companies have adopted is an actual issue that disabled activists are trying to fight against.
If you think straws are just an optional luxury is time to check your privilege. That’s not true for everyone. There are disabled people that simply can’t drink without plastic straws and other options are simply not safe or effective for them. Silicone and bamboo straws are too sturdy and can cause injuries. Acrylic, glass, and metal options can be just as dangerous, prone to breakage and another awful plus, they don’t regulate temperature which is also an issue. Paper and pasta straws are not that reusable, degrade over time and pose choking hazards. Another aspect is the price. Reusable straws can get pretty expensive and as disabled people tend to be more financially troubled. In 2016, people with disabilities were making just 68 cents for every dollar made by non-disabled people. The wage gap gets even worse if someone is also a member of other marginalized communities, LGBTQ+, a person of color, or a woman. This is when the war on plastic straws gets kind of classists, racists, and ableist even if it wasn’t originally intended. Really, plastic straws are the safest and most cost-effective options available. If that’s not good enough for environmentalist, they should put the onus of finding equally good options on manufacturers and not disabled people.
The semi-good news is that most bans have exceptions some are specifically made for disabled people and others are just opt-in provisions. This could be an excellent option for disabled people especially if it’s a “no questions ask” kind of deal instead of a “having to prove you’re disabled before getting a straw” kind of deal. The problem is that not all companies are aware of this or simply don’t prepare for it, thus they don’t keep straws in stock anymore nor do they train their staff so that they are aware that disabled people asking for straws don’t deserve a guilt trip, even if they don’t look disabled at first glance.
To recap, straws aren’t really that big of an environmental hazard, banning them doesn’t really do much for the environment, it encourages slacktivism, and it actually affects the stability of disables people. So, if you have to fight for something, you might want to pick a different battle. In fact, there are actually a couple of things you can do instead:
- Quit smoking: cigarette butts are the most collected items during beaches clean-ups, and that’s not even taking into account the insane amount of cigarrete butts that end up in roads and forests and they can take any time between 18 months to 20 years to completely biodegrade.
- Stop using plastic bags: plastic bags are the most commonly ingested plastics by sea turtles according to NOAA. Nowadays there really is no excuse to switching to paper, fabric, or commonly used produce bags.
- Don’t use balloons either: ballons are awful for both the ocean and birds. Turtles can mistake them for food, and birds can easily get tangled in balloon strings. Besides, they’re totally unnecessary, so it’s something you can comfortably live without.