You may have heard that many companies and cities are planning on getting rid of plastic straws. Seattle just recently placed a ban on the plastic straw, and Starbucks plans to phase out the plastic utensil completely by 2020.  In the future many consumers will have to use alternatives like reusable or biodegradable straws to enjoy their drinks. Starbucks will even began using strawless lids to adapt to the change, but customers can still request a compostable straw. For environmentalists, this seems like a big win. There is no doubt plastic does great harm to our environment, and so phasing plastic straws out seems like a great way to reduce plastic waste. Except there's one big problem with the plastic straw ban. The utensil may be environmentally unfriendly but it's also a life saver for many disabled people.

Historically, plastic straws were used in hospitals. They were meant to be drinking tubes for patients who could otherwise not consume liquids. Today, almost everyone uses plastic straws for everyday occurrences. Most importantly, they have granted much more independence to disabled people. Some people with disabilities would always need assistance in drinking beverages without the invention of plastic straws. The plastic straws allow disabled people a greater quality of life and much more freedom in what they can do everyday. 

Why Not Just Use Alternative Straws? 

So why aren't biodegradable and reusable straws a viable alternative for disabled people? The unfortunate truth is that as of now, there are no viable alternatives that work for all disabled people. The reason the plastic straw is so great for disabled people, is that it works for everyone. Some alternatives are dangerous, others are expensive, and some require a lot of work. Take a look at this great infographic by Sarah Breannep to see why the alternative straws are not an option for some disabled people.

The truth is that as of right now, there are not really any straws that work as well as plastic straws do for disabled people. Well it's important to be aware of the detrimental affects plastic straws can have on the environment, we must also be aware that for many disabled people the utensil is a necessity. This is something that should be kept in mind when having conversations about plastic straws. If you are abled bodied, you should definitely consider using reusable or biodegradable straws! But do keep in mind that not everyone has the option to do so.

So What Now?

So what can we do if we want to help the environment without hurting disabled people? For starters, we need to start considering the affects policies like the straw ban might have on disabled people before we make them law. It is clear that disabled people were not included in the conversation about banning plastic straws before it was implemented by cities and companies.

Second, when the option doesn't work for the disabled community, we need to try to find ones that do. There are other ways we could've possibly reduced plastic waste without hindering the disabled community. For example, Starbucks could've increased the incentive to bring a reusable cup to the store by largely increasing the discount customers receive when bringing their own. Cities might also want to look into reducing the use of plastic cups, instead of plastic straws. Biodegradable cups are a viable alternative, and plastic cups arguably are environmentally worse than plastic straws.

The point is, that policies like the plastic straw ban seem great in theory, but they can really hurt disabled people. So instead of banning plastic straws all together, let's try to create and advocate for policies that are both environmentally friendly and inclusive of all people.