Banning Plastic Straws Is Not The Solution You Think It Is

On Monday, Starbucks announced their commitment to phase out plastic straws from their stores entirely by 2020. This is following the wave of advocacy for people to stop using plastic straws, and in the wake of countless new plastic straw alternative products came onto the market. Plastic pollution is one of the many ways humankind is contributing (and causing) climate change, and recent viral videos and pictures have sparked an increase in mainstream activism against plastic pollution.

Whether it's paper straws, metal straws, silicone straws, or just drinking straight from the cup, the suggestion (and almost demand) of environmental activists is for everyone to stop using plastic straws entirely. The obliteration of plastic straws has become a worldwide phenomenon. In the UK, a campaign is currently underway to ban single-use plastics, including plastic straws.

It seems the internet is filled with people reprimanding every person they see near a plastic straw, celebrating their own use of reusable straws or the promise of companies to stop producing and distributing plastic straws, or lamenting the amount of plastic straws left in the world. So why are some people so upset about this new wave of advocacy and activism? What could possibly be wrong with getting rid of plastic straws? And, for that matter, single-use plastic containers entirely?

Some of the chief critics of plastic straw bans are people with disabilities, who need plastic straws in order to drink safely. Videos like this, and articles like this are popping up all over the place, with people with disabilities are explaining why plastic straw bans are not only unhelpful to them, but entirely detrimental. 

The fact is, the world has a lot of people in it, and not every solution works for every person. The society we live in rarely (if ever) considers people with less privilege. It's a (straight, white, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, etc.) man's world, and this doesn't stop being true within environmental advocacy. A lot of the things that tend to be the first criticized as being 'unnecessary' (like 'ridiculous' TV infomercial products), are usually products that people with disabilities rely upon. To people without disabilities, pre-peeled oranges seem like an unnecessary, wasteful testament to "bourgeois laziness," but there are, without a doubt, people who would have no way to consume fruit without products like that on the market. 

It's super valuable and necessary to reduce your waste whenever possible. I try to never use plastic straws because I don't need them! But creating a culture of shame, or proposing entire, sweeping bans of products that allow people with disabilities to live their daily lives is not the solution to the havoc we've wreaked on our planet. Access is important! Alternatives are important! Taking products off the market will not solve the problem -- creating alternatives is! 

The most incredible, inspiring part of this ban is the advocacy and creativity that has been sparked from this debate. There are so many alternative straws on the market now (this one is my personal favorite), and using these alternatives is stellar! If you can use an alternative straw, you should -- but when you see someone that you think doesn't have a disability reach for the free plastic straw, you shouldn't shame them for it (whether publicly, privately, or in your head). Celebrate your ability and choice to use an alternative straw! Celebrate every time you remember to bring your reusable cup, reusable bag, or alternative straw! Celebrate the creation of alternatives!! The complete annihilation of a product is not necessarily the solution -- the reduction of unnecessary use of that product might be, but shaming people who need that product to live safely and comfortably definitely is not.

(Here's a fun countdown to environmental destruction website I found, if you want to feel some deep panic.)

Image sources: Hero1, 2, 3, 4