Human beings need five things to survive: water, food, oxygen, sleep and also sufficient warmth so that they don’t get hypothermia.
For many people with disabilities, the total removal of plastic straws would take away one, sometimes two, of these five essentials to stay alive. Before plastic straws were invented, a lot of disabled people either died or had to be hospitalised/institutionalised.
I personally need plastic straws to drink. Also, due to my difficulties with swallowing, I’m unable to eat solid vegetables, so the only way I get the vitamins I need from vegetables is from soup (my Dad makes the best vegetable soups), which I can only eat through a straw.
A lot of abled people chime in right about now with the question “what about the alternatives? What about metal straws or paper straws? Pasta ones or silicone ones? Bamboo? Glass? Acrylic?”
Before I even start to answer why these alternatives aren’t able to be used by many people with disabilities, it’s fair to point out how insulting these questions are. I’d like to ask how you, who have been thinking about this issue for all of a few seconds, somehow think that someone who has been living for years/decades with the reality of having to use straws for food and drink, wouldn’t have thought of this before. Do you honestly assume that we haven’t tried or considered the alternatives? Do we not have the intelligence to think of what you thought of within a few minutes? Or do you think we don’t care about the environment as much as you?
Whenever I write about plastic straws online, I’ve been asked “what about the alternatives?” so often and I sometimes waste my non-existent strength to politely reply to explain why I can’t use each different one. I shouldn’t have to destroy my hands and arms to jab out sentences with my thumb on the screen keyboard of my phone (which is the only way I’m just about able to write anything) to explain and justify myself to you. Even writing a few sentences leaves my hands and arms in tatters, shaking and sometimes temporarily paralysed. The effects last for a long time. I’ll just point people towards this blog post in future.
I would also like you to consider why you are focussing on plastic straws, which are essential to some people’s survival (and are a tiny tiny percentage of the plastic problem in the sea) when there are so many other bigger offenders with regards to ocean plastic. 46% of ocean plastic is fishing nets. So are you going to give up seafood and campaign for other people to stop eating it too? Also, are you committing to stop using make-up (there’s so much plastic in make-up containers and in their manufacturing), balloons and condoms? None of these are essential for staying alive but they’re just as bad or worse for the ocean as straws. Are you always using reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones? Do you use unpackaged soap instead of shower gel, which comes in a plastic container? Are you going to stop giving plastic toys to your children? Do you campaign again plastic industrial waste and the planned obsolescence of products by companies? If you don’t, yet are treating disabled people as ‘being difficult’ for speaking up about their need for single-use plastic straws to stay alive, then you may want to think about your motives.
I believe most of you have motives that are well-intentioned and maybe have focused on plastic straws to feel like you’re actually doing a little something to help with the plastic problem in our oceans. You might want to ask yourself why you never even thought about the impact of the straw ban on disabled people though and why it never even occurred to you. A bit of self-examination for ableism and for realisation of the privileges that you have as an abled person might be in order.
It also turns out that the straw ban has actually caused companies to INCREASE their use of plastic. For instance, Starbucks, who announced that they were going strawless, have wound up using more plastic in their new lids than they used to in their lid-straw combo. See this link for more information: https://reason.com/blog/2018/07/12/starbucks-straw-ban-will-see-the-company/
Here’s a helpful graphic (made by @sarahbreannep on twitter) explaining why the alternatives to plastic straws are not an option for many people with disabilities, which saves my hands from having to write even more about this:
By all means, stop using plastic straws if you’re able to. But don’t ban them so that people with disabilities can’t access them.