The problem with local straw bans

The problem with local straw bans

It is obvious to most people that the environment has gotten worse over the years. We are familiar with popular, feel-good trends that claim to reduce our carbon footprint such as the use of reusable water bottles, reusable grocery bags, and now more recently, metal straws.

Trends like ditching plastic straws for the sake of turtles have become prevalent in California. From Disney to Starbucks, businesses are promising to get rid of plastic straws by mid-2019 to early 2020. This seems like a silver bullet that would improve the ocean pollution problem affecting our seas and the creatures that live in them until you take into consideration that plastic straws only make up about 0.025% of the plastic in the ocean, according to National Geographic. This makes the plastic straw problem much smaller than it seems.

Many would agree that single-use plastic straws are superfluous due to them being used usually only once compared to the many uses one could get from reusable alternatives. Although this would be enough to urge businesses to get rid of them completely, people with strength and mobility issues depend on them to consume liquids. Individuals with such disabilities are incapable of holding and tilting a cup, thus needing a straw. 

While paper and metal straws might seem like good alternatives, metal straws can get very hot, depending on the drink, and paper straws can dissolve. The biggest problem is the fact that reusable straws, whatever material they may be, require proper washing between each use. Washing and sterilizing these tools can be very difficult or nearly impossible without extra help for someone who already can’t drink without a straw.

Many companies still offer plastic straws upon request, taking into consideration customers with special needs. This seems like a simple solution until one looks at individual cases where this has not worked out. California Twitter user @EhlersDanlosgrl posted a viral thread explaining her experience when a waitress denied her a plastic straw because she “didn’t look disabled”. 

I messaged her asking for a statement on her stance and she responded: “The straw ban in itself is not the problem. The problem lies within the result of which that a stranger receives the power to decide whether or not a disabled person is validly disabled enough to deserve an accommodation purely based on a vague impression of someone’s physical appearance. There is no way to completely enforce a ‘hand out on request’ system, so the power still lies in the hands of those who know nothing about these disabled people’s conditions to either accommodate them or deny them access. That is where the ableism lies.”

This puts into perspective a major underlying problem, the hands that the power and authority that enforces these plastic straw policies lands on. Moe (@EhlersDanlosgrl), shows that the zeal that many Californians share for protecting our environment, may also deny the disabled the right to drink safely. 

This is even a problem here in Salinas, as restaurants are making the switch from plastic straws here as well. I got to talk to shift leader Brendan from Boardwalk Subs on South Main street and he told me that they did use almost only paper straws with the exception of using plastic straws for some kids’ drinks, but only sometimes. I then asked if they had a large enough supply in case a customer asked them for a plastic straw. He said that most of the time they had few to none and that they haven’t considered getting any more shipments for them since they are used so rarely.

To sum it up, businesses should strive to reduce the use of plastic straws, but never refuse them to a customer based on looks or inquire a customer about their “eligibility” to get a straw-based on their assumed level of disability. And a business should never get rid of plastic straws entirely because it would prevent disabled customers from safely consuming beverages based solely on their level of ability.