Quantcast
Health

Acting Sub Lt.niwat Thumma / EyeEm / Getty Images

Plastic Straw Bans Have Unintended Consequences for People with Disabilities

The movement to ban plastic straws has gained major momentum this month, with Seattle's ban going into effect July 1 and companies like Starbucks, Hyatt and American Airlines all agreeing to phase the sucking devices out as well.


But the anti-straw push has had unintended consequences for people with disabilities, many of whom need the flexibility and heat-resistance of plastic straws to be able to dine out.

"Many people with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis require the use of plastic straws in order to hydrate," Disability Rights Washington co-wrote in an open letter to the Seattle City Council about the ban. "Other types of straws simply do not offer the combination of strength, flexibility, and safety that plastic straws do."

A graphic has started circulating on Twitter showing exactly why other alternatives like paper (it dissolves) or metal (unsafe with hot liquids) won't work as accessible replacements.

For many people with disabilities, who make up one in five Americans, the ban on straws is yet another example of how their needs are overlooked by the able-bodied.

"Our voices are so often left out of the conversation, and our needs so rarely considered, because disabled people are not seen as fully equal members of society," Karin Hitselberger wrote in an a piece about the straw bans for The Washington Post.

Flexible plastic straws were originally marketed for medical use, Quartz reported. Inventor Joseph B. Friedman sold the "Flex Straw" to help hospital patients drink while lying down.

But for the able-bodied, their medical usefulness has been forgotten and they have become a symbol of plastic waste.

David M. Perry speculated in Pacific Standard the current push against straws might have come from a 2015 video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck up its nose, which helped straws become a stand-in for larger concerns about plastics polluting the world's oceans.

But one gruesome video doesn't make straws a numerically significant as a threat to marine life compared to plastic bags or fishing gear, Perry wrote. The oft-cited figure that the U.S. throws away 500 million straws every day was actually estimated by a nine year old boy after calling three straw companies, Perry pointed out.

However, that doesn't mean plastic straws are not part of the larger problem.

"Straws are maybe not the biggest source of either plastic pollution or disposable plastic we consume, but they're in there," senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council Darby Hoover told NPR, adding that plastic in the oceans breaks down so much that it is hard to tell if a piece started out as a straw or a bottle.

Dune Ives of Lonely Whale, a Seattle non-profit that has partnered with both Alaska Airlines and Bacardi on anti-straw measures, said the plastic straw was chosen partly for psychological reasons, as a hook to convince people to take action and change their behavior.

"To us, it was the 'gateway plastic' to the larger, more serious plastic pollution conversation," she wrote.

Disability advocates are sympathetic to the environmental motivations behind the straw bans, they just don't want to be left out of the movement.

Hitselberger and Perry, whose son has Down syndrome and uses plastic straws, both recommend that businesses simply keep plastic straws behind the counter for anyone who asks.

"We don't have to choose between making the world more sustainable or making it more accessible," Hitselberger wrote.

Co-founder of Scottish disability rights organization One in Five Jamie Szymkowiak wrote a post for Greenpeace also calling on manufacturers to work on designing sustainable, non-plastic straws that would work for disabled customers.

"As we move to ridding our oceans, beaches and parks of unnecessary single-use plastics, disabled people shouldn't be used as a scapegoat by large corporations, or governments, unwilling to push suppliers and manufacturers to produce a better solution. Instead, we must all work together to demand an environmentally friendly solution that meets all our needs, including those of disabled people," Szymkowiak wrote.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
Baby mountain gorilla. Pixabay

Conservation and 'Renewed Hope': Mountain Gorilla Numbers Rebound

First, the good news. Collaborative conservation efforts have brought "renewed hope" for mountain gorillas and two large whale species, according to today's update from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

The mountain gorilla subspecies moved from "critically endangered" to "endangered" due to anti-poaching patrols and veterinary interventions. In 2008, their population dropped to as low as 680 individuals––but the new estimates reveal that the number of mountain gorillas has increased to more than 1,000 individuals—the highest figure ever recorded for the eastern gorilla subspecies, the IUCN said.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Agricultural workers in Salinas, California. Michael Davidson / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

200+ Groups Call on Senate to Reject 'Pesticide Industry Loyalist' as USDA's Top Scientist

By Andrea Germanos

Denouncing his "strong ties to corporate agribusiness and pesticide companies," more than 240 groups urged the Senate on Wednesday to reject the nomination of Scott Hutchins, President Donald Trump's pick for chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The world's forested area shrunk by 129 million hectares between 1990 and 2015. Pixabay

France Looks to Curb Palm Oil and Beef Imports to Halt Deforestation

In a significant move to combat worldwide deforestation, the French government unveiled a national strategy on Wednesday that looks to curb imports of soybean, palm oil, beef and beef products, cocoa, rubber, as well as wood and its derivatives.

The new plan, a joint effort from five French ministries, identifies these items as contributing the most to "imported deforestation"—meaning these products are directly or indirectly tied to forest degradation.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans
The dramatic conclusions of a recent study on ocean warming have been cast in doubt by newly discovered errors. marion faria photography / Getty Images

New Findings Cast Doubt on Claim That Oceans Have Warmed 60% More Than Scientists Thought

Two weeks ago, EcoWatch reported on a terrifying study that claimed the world's oceans had warmed 60 percent more in the past 25 years than previously thought. This raised the possibility that the earth was more even more sensitive to climate change than scientists had believed, meaning we have even less time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep temperatures within a livable range.

In the two weeks since the study was first published in Nature, however, errors have been spotted in the paper that cast doubt on that alarming 60 percent figure.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Pixabay

Turkey Is Bad on Antibiotics—Pork and Beef, Even Worse

By David Wallinga, MD

Heading into the holidays, many of our families are planning meals centered around a delicious turkey, ham or brisket. But a new analysis from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and our partners at Food Animal Concerns Trust shows that our families' health is at significant risk from how these American meats are typically produced.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
The Great Australian Bight is home to one of only two southern right whale calving grounds in the world. Greenpeace / Jaimen Hudson

An Oil Spill in the Great Australian Bight Could Be Twice as Bad as Deepwater Horizon

Equinor, Norway's state oil company formerly known as Statoil, has faced criticism from environmentalists over its plans to drill the Great Australian Bight off the country's southern coast. A potential spill in the area would threaten the ecosystem and endanger the largest breeding populations of endangered southern right whales in the world.

Such fears are now confirmed if a blowout should actually occur, according to a leaked draft Oil Pollution Emergency Plan authored by Equinor and obtained by Greenpeace's Australia Pacific branch.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Thanasis Zovoilis / Moment / Getty Images

Hormone-Disrupting Weed Killer Taints Tap Water for Millions in Corn Belt

Seasonal spikes of atrazine–a weed killer that can disrupt hormones and harm developing fetuses–contaminate drinking water in corn-growing areas of the Midwest and beyond, according to an analysis of federal records by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!