The Downside of the Plastic Straw Ban

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The Downside of the Plastic Straw Ban

Plastic straw ban is now implementing especially in the country of the Philippines / Photo by: Tae PY15MU via Shutterstock


Restaurants and fast food chains are slowly following the wave of the plastic straw ban. Who wouldn't? The single-use plastic contributes to the estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste that have been dumped in the ocean every year. If that fact alone was not enough, the viral video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw that was stuck in its nostril might be the push that people need to see how damaging the straws can be to the environment. And so, the movement to ban straws emerged.

How the anti-plastic straw movement came to be

The campaign was made with the best intentions; reducing plastic waste being dumped in the ocean, taking over the landfills, saving the lives of the animals, and saving the environment in general. The call for the straw ban has gained international recognition and is even backed up by celebrities. Although plastic pollution will not be solved by banning straws, it is a step that can help people pay attention to the issue.

In July, coffee company Starbucks announced that will be phasing out the use of plastic straws by 2020 and replace them with a plastic lid similar to a top of a sippy cup. This is a day after Seattle banned the use of plastic straws and utensils at the city's food purveyors. Soon, corporations like Bacardi Rum, McDonald's, and American Airlines have followed suit and announced that they, too, will cease the usage of the single-use plastic in the coming years, this according to Mashable.

Moreover, the #StopSucking campaign enlisted celebrities to argue against the use of plastic straws. A voice of the movement is businesswoman and TV personality, Martha Stewart, who encouraged people to make take even small steps to be more conscious about the environment. 

With the movement gaining momentum, environmentalists are happy, news reports started making a buzz, and major corporations are following suit. It all seems going in the right direction until the nature-preserving movement caused a problem for those with disabilities who are dependent on plastic straws to consume food, this according to Forbes.


McDonald's is one of the companies that are implementing the plastic straw ban / Photo by: Vytautas Kielaitis via Shutterstock


The problem with the anti-plastic straw movement

In a report by The Guardian, businesses that are heavily dependent on plastic straws, such as boba tea shops, found it difficult to find alternatives. Biodegradable straw manufacturers couldn't keep up with the growing demand and, as stated, people who rely on the use of straw are now facing another obstacle in public dining.

Lawrence Carter-Long, the director of communications at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said that the result of the straw ban reflects "a situation that happens time and time again when it comes the disability community" where if people don't see the problem, then it is not something that they should be concerned about. “If people don’t personally need straws, they fail or neglect to realize that there are people that do.”

Even with this concern being voiced out by the opposition, the ban of plastic straws seems to be well on its way as entire countries start jumping on the cause. Taiwan is working on eliminating all single-use straws by 2025 while the United Kingdom and the European Union are both pondering on taking similar measures.



For Alice Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, the thing that is often overlooked is what pro-ban advocates consider to be a normal thing in their lives is not the same for people with disabilities. Wong has a progressive neuromuscular disability which makes her dependent on wheelchair and ventilator for her to move around and breathe.

She doesn't have much strength on her hands and arms, making drinking a cup of coffee an obstacle for her. “It’s something most people don’t notice, but for a disabled person, straws are an accessibility tool,” she said.

Alternatives like the compostable straws are not always reliable, especially for hot drinks, and people with allergies can't use them. Metal straws are not soft enough for those with certain disabilities, such in the case of Carter-Long who has cerebral palsy and one issue is his inability to control his bite. Moreover, for people with limited mobility, such as Wong, carrying and having access to their own utensils is another endeavor to enjoying something that is usually available for the able-bodied.

Seeing as the well-intentioned plastic straw ban has put forth an unexpected problem for the disabled community, activists suggest making single-use plastic straws available upon the customer's request. It seems like the most appropriate solution as far as inclusivity is concerned.


Will banning plastic straws really work?

In a sense, yes, it will work. If people were to minimize or not use plastic straws at all, the amount of plastic thrown in the ocean is bound to decrease. However, this type of single-use plastic is not the main cause of contamination in the ocean. Commercial fishing nets and microplastics are found to be the main source of pollution in the waters between California and Hawaii.

Although giving up straws alone will not make a huge impact on decreasing the trash in the ocean, it is a step that many people can take. Persuading corporations and the government to enact policy change is bigger, and much harder, step to fully going green to save the environment.



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