Plastic Straw Bans Negatively Affect Disabled Communities



As a generation, gen-z has set the trend of reducing, reusing, and recycling. One of the many steps we have adopted– generally thanks to the infamous VSCO girls– is sustainability, or using items that use less of or preserve nonrenewable resources. Through thrifting clothes, using metal straws, and drinking from hydro-flasks, banning unsustainable items like plastic straws and water bottles have become movements across the world. But here’s why these bans aren’t always effective, especially towards the disabled community. Many disabilities require plastic straws for drinking, and they tend to be looked over during environmental debates. 

The Issue at Hand

According to Erin Vallely, a writer for the Center for Disability Rights with muscular dystrophy, people with mobility or motor skill issues “cannot lift cups high enough to drink from them… [or] cannot hold a drink steady without spilling it”. This means that without straws, individuals with disabilities cannot drink without possibly spilling, putting themselves at risk if they are hot, or hard to clean up. For these same people, cleaning reusable straws is just as hard as drinking straw-free. Vallely also said that “metal, bamboo, glass, and acrylic straws pose injury risks” to those with uncontrollable physical ticks and “paper and pasta straws… put individuals at risk of choking [and] compostable straws… increase the likelihood of allergic reactions”.



People are often quick to judge when it comes to the disabled ‘choosing’ to use plastic straws, and accusatorily ask what they used before their advent. The answer can be found in Maria Godoy’s article titled “Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible”, where she interviews an expert. “‘They aspirated liquid in their lungs, developed pneumonia and died,’ [said] Shaun Bickley, co-chair of the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities”, only going to show how vital plastic straws are for the community. There were also rubber straws, which were hard to clean and overall ended up becoming unhygienic after a short time. 


The government is aware of this necessity, and have put an exemption on restaurants and other businesses saving some plastic straws for those with medical issues, but, Godoy states, “just because an exemption is written into law doesn’t mean businesses will comply, even if they know about it”. Businesses often won’t have plastic straws at hand, meaning that families of people with disabilities will have to look elsewhere for their drinks, often in vain. 


In this situation, it is clear that the disabled community is being looked over when it comes to environmentalist conversations, which begs the question, who else is being looked over? Through the popularity of sustainability, we as a generation have a leg-up on those before us, but we must also take other communities into account. When making decisions that affect whole countries, states, or cities, we must also gather input from other inhabitants, especially minorities and those generally left out of the conversation.

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