Saving the planet isn’t that easy…. A ban on plastic drinking straws could mean going thirsty

  • News
  • 26/07/2018
A bunch of colourful plastic drinking straws

After a city-wide ban on plastic drinking straws came into effect on July 1, Disability Rights Washington wrote an open letter to the Seattle City Council appealing the decision. The letter outlines the many disadvantages and inconveniences the ban has created for those who cannot drink without the assistance of a plastic drinking straw.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Council members,

We are writing to you with concerns about the straw ban that takes effect in Seattle on Sunday, July 1. Restaurants will no longer be permitted to carry or distribute plastic straws, but instead will carry biodegradable alternatives like paper.

While we acknowledge the environmental concerns and impacts of plastic straws, we are concerned as we believe this ordinance was made without taking into account the negative effects it would have on people with disabilities. Many people with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis require the use of plastic straws in order to hydrate. Other types of straws simply do not offer the combination of strength, flexibility, and safety that plastic straws do. Metal straws become hot or cold and offer a risk of injury. Some people, including one of the Disability Commissioners, Dianne Laurine, will bite through paper straws, and they dissolve if the person takes too long to drink, and so forth.

If a person cannot physically drink without the aid of a straw, then obviously they don’t have the ability to clean a reusable straw. Many people have limited care giver hours for tasks like this, or caregivers who won’t think about having to pack straws for a person.

Restaurants are still providing usable straws and cutlery for the convenience of able people. Requiring people with disabilities to treat a fast food trip as something that requires planning and supplies is an unplanned failure in equity, when these restaurants could just as easily offer them upon request to individuals who need them. Disability is already very expensive, and many people are forced to carry around large amounts of equipment or types of medication and devices. Adding another specialised device, simply for them to be able to hydrate themselves, is an undue burden, and an unfortunate effect of this law.

There’s a lot of work we all should be doing to be environmentally friendly, and while we understand the intent here was to remove a harmful single use plastic from circulation, the impact on our community in particular is outsized and could exclude individuals with disabilities from fully participating in Seattle in the way they see best for themselves.

We look forward to working toward a fair solution for Seattleites with disabilities affected by this ordinance.

For enquiries, please contact Shaun Bickley, [email protected]

Kimberley Meck, Executive Director
The Alliance of People with Disabilities

Stacy Gillett, Executive Director
The Arc of King County

Mark Stroh, Executive Director
Disability Rights Washington

Ginger Kwan, Executive Director
Open Doors for Multicultural Families

Shaun Bickley, Co-Chair
Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities

ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Co-Chair
Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities

Yet the online response to the letter ranged from agreement to total disapproval.

“We have something that works. We have something that keeps people alive, and until we have an alternative, this is what we need to use.” said Joseph Rappaport, Executive Director at the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled.

“Eliminating plastic straws can cause many people with disabilities like myself not to be able to eat or drink in a restaurant, in a cafe… it’s more than just a convenience. It is a necessity for people like us,” said Sharon Shapiro-Lacks, a board member of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID).

“Paper straws get soggy and disintegrate, a potential choking hazard. Biodegradable straws can’t handle hot temperatures. Stainless steel straws aren’t flexible, and can be potentially dangerous, cutting the mouth and gums if used improperly. If you’re someone who has seizures, or poor motor function, or have difficulty controlling muscle groups, steel and glass straws may not be a safe option. And Starbucks’ new ‘adult sippy cups’ may not work for people who can’t raise a cup to their mouth.”

Shapiro-Lacks, who has cerebral palsy, recently testified at a New York City Council hearing about not being able to access a straw on an outing with her husband. “My husband has had to hold the cup to my mouth in order for me to drink in a manner that draws public attention,” she said. “This compromises my privacy and dignity.”

Those supporting the complete ban on plastic drinking straws took to Facebook with their objections – comments such as ‘The planet is more important’ highlighted our lack of long-term thinking and care for our environment, or the future of our planet. Many Facebook users claim that no one is excused from the responsibility of reducing non-biodegradable waste. The two points of view have sparked an interesting debate.

Click here to view the comments.

Whilst it is widely understood that recycling and reusing is important, many people are not aware that single-use plastic drinking straws cannot be recycled. Therefore often we do not consider the damage using a plastic straw does to our precious environment.

To learn more about this issue in Australia, click here

Consider saving your plastic drinking straws to recycle and reuse – here is a quick video with 10 DIY projects for you to turn your used straws into art:

How do you feel about the issues raised in this article? Email us with your opinions!