Are Plastic Straw Bans Creating More Harm Than Good?

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!

Trash Tribe 2018: Chilli Beach


We cram in our vehicles and drive two days to Cape York, a large remote peninsula in far North Queensland.  The beaches are breathtaking and the water is crisp, but taking a closer look, the issue became clear; the largest unspoiled wilderness area in northern Australia is littered with plastic. Soon, that’s all you can see.


“Every direction you looked there was rubbish of every kind scattered…every piece of rubbish picked up revealed another. It was easy to spend 30-45 minutes sitting in the same spot, meticulously picking everything around you.” – Sam D.


Days were long but stoke was high. After a quick cup of coffee and group debrief, we take to the beach, splitting up into groups of “collectors” and “sorters”. With the help of our partner organisation, Tangaroa Blue, we begin collecting data on what types of plastics we are finding on this remote beach.

The final day of our trip, a storm hits Chilli Beach, bringing with it a large wave of new plastic littering our freshly cleaned beach. Whether brought by the ocean or hidden under the sand that got washed away with the tide, hearts are heavy as we realise the 3.6 tonnes of rubbish we had removed from the beach, was only a temporary fix. This storm is a harsh reality check, but only further fuels our desire to one day rid the ocean of plastic pollution.


“I think the largest impact the trip had on me was just how far ocean debris can travel before landing on the Australian coast. We were able to identify which country certain plastic bottles came from by the labels and markings still visible on the side. Some of the bottles and rubbish had come as far as Fiji and Indonesia…it highlights that ocean pollution is a world problem and not just about changing our own habits but for the world population to also look at re-education of what consumables we use and how we dispose of them.” – Sean W. 


We all came from diverse backgrounds, carrying our own frustrations regarding plastic pollution, and sharing a deeply rooted appreciation for nature. Although, recruiting like-minded individuals is the easy part. The real question is, how about those who have never had access to nature? How do we instill a love for and desire to protect the places that fail to hold significance for many individuals?


“It is definitely hard to explain to people…people are interested but they can’t really understand unless they’ve seen it. Also, all my friends here in Asia live in massive mega-cities where they have never seen a national park or a uncrowded beach, so it’s hard for them to understand the intrinsic value of and love for the environment… I think I will need to concentrate…on not getting bogged down by the scale of the problem and giving up, but staying motivated to inspire change in all factions of society.” – Ciara G. 


Speaking with our Trash Tribe post-trip, the final message is clear: we can’t just do cleanups and expect change.  All the plastic and rubbish we pick up today will simply be replaced by more tomorrow. Change has to come from the source. So don’t get discouraged! Focus on the small changes you can make, educate those around you who are willing to learn, take more people outside and allow them to fall in love with the places you want to protect. It’ll take time, but don’t worry, we’re already on our way to the #cleancoastlife.

Data Sample:

Total Weight: 3,646 Kilos

Plastic fragments: 57,185

Bottle lids: 12,763

Rubber thongs: 614

Plastic bottles: 1,965

Rope & Nets: 1,486

Want to get involved? Click here to learn more about our Application process! 


Huge thank you to Patagonia Byron Bay for funding this years exhibition through their Environmental Grants Program!

Photo: @hutchcroft
Photo: @hutchcroft
Photo: @hutchcroft
Photo: @woodchopwood
Photo: @ellerykr
Photo: @woodchopwood


Photo: @woodchopwood


Trash Tribe 2017: Chilli Beach

Returning to Chilli Beach two weeks ago, we were excited for another week spent cleaning one of our favourite beaches in Australia.

Chilli Beach is a special place – it’s where we took our first Trash Tribe in 2015, and also ecologically an incredibly unique place. Situated on the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula, Chilli Beach is nestled amongst the rainforest of the Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park, a small patch of rainforest abundant with wildlife found on in that one park and in Papua New Guinea.

In 2015, the Trash Tribe helped removed over 3.1 tonnes of marine debris off the 6.7km long Chilli Beach. With our new Tribe in tow this year, we were expecting to only remove 2 tonnes – how mistaken we were.

By Day 3 of our clean up we had already tipped the scales at 3 tonnes and were only halfway through cleaning the beach. Spirits were low for the first time on the trip, with many of us realising that perhaps we wouldn’t even clean the entire beach this year. Fortunately our Tribe of passionate movers and shakers shook off the bad vibes and stepped on to the beach for the final two days with even more determination to get the job done.

By the end of Day 5 we had removed 7 tonnes of debris and pollution from Chilli Beach – what a bittersweet moment that was. The ocean was 7 tonnes lighter, but what the hell was it doing there in the first place?!

Our partner organisation, Tangaroa Blue, who coordinate the Chilli Beach clean up suspect that unusual weather events and increased sand erosion explains the spike in the amount of debris we collected this year. Whatever the cause, our Tribe returned home this week with renewed enthusiasm to spread the message of plastic-free living and keeping our oceans clean.

We cannot wait to share with you what they all create!

Here are some of the final numbers from this year’s clean up:

  • 1009 cigarette lighters
  • 2279 toothbrushes/combs/razors
  • 3204 bleach bottles
  • 3325 plastic drink bottles
  • 5547 thongs

Images by Jemma Scott.

The 2017 Trash Tribe expedition was made possible by our brand partners – Earth Bottles, Organic Crew, Camp Cove Swim, OceanZen Swim, Surf Collective, ECO. Modern Essentials and Dumbo Feather.

The Chilli Beach clean up is coordinated by Tangaroa Blue.

TRASH TRIBE: Cape York, 2015

In 2015, we took a group of young designers, artists, musicians and environmentalists to remote Chilli Beach in Cape York to conduct a massive beach clean up.

The days were long and hot, the rubbish heavy, and the remote location meant that showers weren’t an option. But despite all this, the crew had an amazing time — sharing laughs, smiles and impromptu dance breaks for six days straight. In total the group removed 3.1 tonnes of marine debris, including 48,674 plastic fragments, 15,267 bottle lids, 2,305 thongs, 2,004 plastic bottles, 1,563 metres of rope, and 1 playground slide. Each item removed was sorted and recorded for the Australian Marine Debris Database, so we can learn where this rubbish is coming from and develop policies to stop the flow of plastics into our oceans.

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