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

Nevada Resources for Disability


Centers for Independent Living

Southern Nevada Centers of Independent Living

S. Rainbow Blvd
Suite 220
Las Vegas, Nevada 89146

Voice/TDD/TTY: (702) 889-4216
Nevada Relay 711
Toll Free: (800) 870-7003
Fax: (702) 889-4574


Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living


Lisa Bonie, Executive Director

999 Pyramid Way
Sparks, NV 89431
Phone: 775-353-3599
Fax: 775-353-3588


Deb Maijala, Rural Services Coordinator

999 Pyramid Way
Sparks, NV 89431
Phone: 775-353-3599
Fax: 775-353-3588

Helpful Links

Accessible Space, Inc. – Assisted Living Housing for People with Disabilities; requires Medicaid

Americans With Disabilities Technical Assistance Center for Nevada, Arizona, California, Hawaii and the Pacific Basin

BrightStar Care of Henderson

Cat Bus – Public Transportation

Chamber of Commerce New Visitors Guide

City of Henderson Adaptive Recreation

City of Las Vegas Adaptive Recreation

Clark County Housing Authority – Subsidized Housing Programs

Clark County Social Services – Emergency Rental Assistance (if eligible), Medicaid Pending Medical Cards

Help of Southern Nevada – Community Resources – Homeless Shelters, Food Banks, Financial Assistance Resources

Independent Living Utilization – Provides Information about Centers for Independent Living Nationwide and other research results for people with disabilities

Las Vegas Housing Authority – Subsidized Housing programs

Las Vegas Review Journal – Newspaper


Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center – Information on mesothelioma cancer from its cause and diagnosis to treatment options available.

Mesothelioma Guide

National Council on Independent Living

New LifeStyles, Inc. – Information on Senior Housing and Care Options

Para Transit – Door to Door Transportation

Social Security Administration

United Way