Acting Sub Lt.niwat Thumma / EyeEm / Getty Images
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.
@NPR Hi, I guess it's now my full time job to post this infographic under every NPR plastic straws story until anyo… https://t.co/9BtM9yUvtL— Destinee Siebe Hyphen (@Destinee Siebe Hyphen)1529109163.0
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.
By Martin Wagner
Emissions from aircraft are a substantial contributor to global warming. Taking into account greenhouse gas emissions, the warming effect of contrails and aviation-induced cirrus clouds, and anticipated growth in air traffic, scientists estimate that aircraft could be responsible for as much as 10 percent of human-caused global warming by 2050. So, of course the airlines are working hard to reduce these emissions, right?
Wrong. For more than a decade, the industry-influenced International Civil Aviation Organization has rejected calls to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from aircraft. Finally, fed up with inaction at the international level, Europe decided to lead the way to a solution.
Under a European regulation to go into effect in 2012, flights into or out of European airports will have to account for their contribution to global warming, and will have to buy permits for emissions exceeding 85 percent of historical amounts (if they reduce their emissions enough, they can sell their excess permits for a profit).
It’s a good start at reducing planes’ contribution to global warming. It will reduce emissions equivalent to taking 30 million cars off the road each year and create industry-wide incentives for deeper cuts. But the industry objected. Along with their industry associations, Continental, United and American Airlines sued in European courts, arguing that the European regulations violated international law. They also convinced the U.S. government to threaten retaliation if U.S. airlines are forced to comply.
Earthjustice intervened in the European court to defend the law. Recently, Europe’s highest court rejected the airlines’ arguments, ruling that the European measure does not violate international law.
This is good news for the planet. Now the airlines should follow suit. Instead of trying to avoid responsibility for their contribution to global warming, U.S. airlines should pressure the federal government to level the playing field by imposing equivalent restrictions on aircraft using U.S. airports. And in the meantime, they should begin adapting their practices and planes to be a bit more friendly to the skies and the planet.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.