Don’t ban the plastic straw

Don’t ban the plastic straw

There has been much hype in recent days about the plastic drinking straw. Many organisations, hospitality venues, exhibition centres and local government organisations are jumping on the popularist bandwagon and banning or removing single-use plastic straws. The city of Seattle has gone one stage further and introduced a fine for any establishment providing a straw to a customer.

The trouble with this type of reaction and action is that it is knee-jerk and based on the popularist ideology that concern for the environment trumps everything. Further, there is a perception that concern for the environment is a vote or customer winner.

But like all rash knee-jerk reactions, decisions based on popularist ideology are seldom thought through and environmental pushes have a history of marginalising people with a disability.

Plastic straws are not a luxury for some they are a necessity

Many people with a disability lack the hand or arm dexterity to drink conventionally from a glass, cup, mug or bottle. The straw is an essential tool for everyday participation in life, whether that is daily living, social engagement, travelling or work environments. The basic bendable straw has been a major technological breakthrough and enabler for those reliant on them. Independence is something that every human being has a right to and it is not something that should not be taken away by decisions around a board table looking to score CSR brownie points or politicians looking to shore up the “green” vote. Let’s remember that people with a disability are now the largest minority group in the world and with an ageing population now have considerable voting clout. Further, people with a disability are on track to control 50% of the tourism and leisure spend by 2020, a sobering consideration for those organisations in hospitality and tourism banning straws.

When you consider all of the environmental issues in the world and climate change is the humble plastic straw the “thing” you really want to hang your environmental credentials on?


What about the alternatives
  • Paper straws breakdown in hot liquids
  • Paper straws also breakdown over a period
  • Glass straws can break with involuntary jaw movements causing injury
  • Metal straws can break teeth with involuntary jaw movements
  • Bamboo straws can’t bend and are difficult to clean
  • Bamboo straws can also break teeth
  • Bio-degradable straws breakdown in temperatures over 40 degree celsius
  • Carrying your own straw is often impracticable and unhygienic

In short, there are currently no practical alternatives to the single-use plastic bendable straw.

By all means, stop issuing straws to all and sundry, but have them available to those that require them to participate equally in social life or work environments. It is not only the socially the right thing to do, but in many parts of the world, it is a requirement under various disability discrimination acts including the US ADA and Australia’s DDA. Further, for those countries that have ratified the UNCRPD, local governments would find it very difficult to justify bans under that convention.

Need more convincing?

There has been some excellent editorial commentary over the last few days. Here are some samples:

Action on plastics shouldn’t make life suck for disabled people – Greenpeace

For many with disabilities, plastic straws are essential – not frivolous – The Globe and Mail


There’s an unexpected downfall to banning plastic straws. Here’s what to consider. – Upworthy