Why Banning Plastic Straws is Problematic

I know, I know. After reading that title, I bet you have a fight to pick with me. Last semester, in Costa Rica, my study abroad group and I only talked about this subject one time, and even then, my friends there were not listening to what I had to say. It feels a little uncomfortable bringing up how this new wave of banning plastic straws is rooted in ableism since I do not suffer from any diseases requiring the usage of plastic straws; however, it is important for able-bodied people to better understand and advocate for the comfortable lives of those whose everyday life is not catered to nor thought of. Prime example: this plastic straw ban. 

Last year, after a video went viral of a sea turtle with a plastic straw in its nose, the world made a public outcry pushing companies to ban using plastic straws for good. According to National Geographic, Starbucks is en route to phase out plastic straws by 2020 in the UK and Ireland, McDonalds is planning to ban all usage of plastic straws, and even an airline, Alaska Airlines, has promised the world to ban plastic straws. As wonderful as this news sounds, it completely ignores an entire population of people who need plastic straws for everyday use, and more ironically, it ignores all other plastic production.

People I've personally spoken with who want a ban on plastic straws never seem to bring up literally any other plastic pollutant that is harming the ocean and its creatures. National Geographic reports that plastic straws make up only 0.025% of the total eight million tons of plastic flowing into our oceans each year! That means this movement is ignoring 99.975% of this eight million tons of plastic. Steve Russell, the vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), has stated that "the focus on individual products takes our focus away from more necessary discussions on how we bring waste management to places that need it the most desperately." For him, the solution "would be better if straws weren't automatically provided, but available should a consumer need one.”

People with disabilities already handle their daily life struggles and do not need to have yet another straw to break the camels back! Of course, not everyone who is a part of this movement is ignorant to the other plastic waste we use daily. On Facebook, many of my friends are converting to more sustainable, renewable beauty products such as shampoo and conditioner bars or using products like biodegradable toothbrushes. However, when advocating for sustainable products, do not forget about those whose identity is already forgotten by most legislation and people! People's disabilities do not have to be visible for us to remember them when planning out a social movement or new way of life. Example: pushing for worldwide legislation to ban plastic straws versus SO many other plastic products.

Below is an amazing video that concisely and precisely addresses this issue of ableism overshadowing the movement towards more sustainable with this focus on plastic straws. As someone who has never experienced this discrimination personally, I can only speak so much to this problem.

  1. 1. Banning Straws Hurts People // The Last Straw!

So, next time you think about whether or not you should use a plastic straw, think for yourself! Do not try to impose legislation banning an item that is essential to the lives of so many people, placing the burden of asking for a straw onto them when you can place the burden on yourself and decline the plastic straw. People with disabilities already have to maneuver around our ableist society, why place another burden on them?