Are Plastic Straw Bans Creating More Harm Than Good?

Are Plastic Straw Bans Creating More Harm Than Good?

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The unintentional consequences of an environmental solution

If you’ve found yourself on our website, undoubtedly, you want to help create a world with clean oceans and waterways. Like us, you want our global community to stop treating plastic, a highly durable material, as something that is ‘disposable’. You want a society that is conscious of its impact on this planet, and acts accordingly.

We want that too.

Like the rest of the community fighting to rid out world of plastic pollution, we agree that plastic straws are, for the most part, unnecessary and incredibly harmful to our planet. Over the past four years, we’ve collected thousands of straws on Australian beaches. We’ve ‘strawkled’ with Operation Straw in Manly Harbour. We’ve even created our own reusable straws to help individuals and businesses move away from plastic straws.

‘Just ban them already!’ were words that frequently left our lips, and to us it was as simple as that. But when we learned that proposed plastic straw bans were a cause for concern for those in our community living with disability, or recovering from injury, we realised we had been inadvertently approaching this issue from a very ‘ableist’ perspective.

Fortunately, recent Trash Tribe volunteer and Founder of Nature Freedom, Mathew Townsend opened our eyes to how outright bans on plastic straws will exclude individuals who suffer from a wide-range of disabilities and rely on the use of plastic straws to eat, drink, and live independently.

Why Plastic?

For people living with disability or recovering from injury, the flexibility, low cost, and accessibility of plastic straws, makes them the number one choice in comparison to today’s more sustainable alternatives.

In other words, with paper straws becoming soggy and a potential chocking hazard, metal and bamboo straws being rigid and hazardous for individuals who have mobility issues or difficulty controlling their bite, and biodegradable straws being deemed unsuitable for beverages over 37 degrees celsius, plastic straws remain the only practical solution for people with disabilities.

Therefore, banning plastic straws from restaurants, bars and cafes, without an interchangeable alternative already in place, would lead to unintended consequences and additional hardships and costs for members of the disabled community.

Have we been unintentionally excluding people by helping hospitality venues ditch plastic straws? Not exactly the conscious and caring world we had been striving to create.

What can we do?

Disability advocates aren’t calling for us to keep plastic straws around forever. Instead, groups around the world are challenging large businesses to invest in the research and development of a widely accessible and sustainable substitute that appeals to both the objective of the environmentalist and the necessity of those with disabilities. A straw that doesn’t exclude people, but also doesn’t damage the environment. Alternatively, instead of bans, they are calling for ‘straws on request’ programs to cut down on plastic straw usage in venues.

After all, when it’s all boiled down, large companies do have the power and means to create an inclusive community. This change merely comes down to a willingness to invest time and money into a more sustainable product.

Needless to say, we all need to continue to fight for a plastic-free future, however let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture in our campaigns and proposed solutions. While outright bans are the quickest way to force behavioural change, perhaps we need to take a slower route to ensure inclusivity.

If you’re joining us in our fight to protect the environment, I urge you to keep your eyes and ears open, be willing to listen to different perspectives, and be ready to change your idea of a solution. We need to fight to protect the environment for future generations, but let’s ensure that we’re also fighting to create a world that is inclusive of all people.

To learn more about this issue from people living with disabilities themselves, please read the articles below:


We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this issue!

One Response

  1. Thank you for this article. We think that having straws on request is a great way to reduce single-use plastic. behaviour change is certainly a transition and it takes time. I’m also wondering if a the “ban” on single-use plastic straws could just include a clause that they are allowed for people with a disability. and perhaps they could carry their own plastic straw (or silicone reusable straw) with them in their cutlery kit. Then they can reduce and reuse and be included in the movement!

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