Why I Cannot Support Straw Bans

I know right?!?! Crazy plastic hating lady cannot support straw bans? Read on friends!

Ok ok, I am extremely happy that people are becoming more aware of the effects of plastic items on our environment. In fact, this topic has become so incredibly hip that Starbucks has caught on and created a fun marketing scheme! They have decided to create a lid that has more plastic than their regular lids, BUT they won’t be giving out straws. So now you and your 3 year old can bond over drinking mechanisms! Alright sarcasm is over (maybe).

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On the whole Starbucks topic, it seems to me as if they are really playing to their audience. People (mostly rich white people) are freaking out about straws lately. It’s all over the news. Cities are banning straws, and are people buying stainless steel straws like it’s the newest coolest thing to have. So congrats to Starbucks for listening to what people want!

You know what I want? For human beings to take responsibility for their own purchases and actions and to stop whining about straws. Sorry. I’m sick of it. Let’s actually talk about straws instead of just banning them.

A History of Plastic Tubes

The modern straw as we know it was originally designed to help people drink fluids who were in the hospital around the 1930’s. A bendy piece of plastic in a cup is a lot easier to use than pouring liquids on your face hoping some of it gets in your mouth. True! Originally these straws were actually made out of paper and a little glue and became really popular.

Now let’s pause here. Why? Why did straws become popular? Why do people like drinking with straws? I just don’t get it. Maybe it was to jazz up a drink, make it look ~cool~, maybe people just liked them. When I decided to go plastic free straws were the LEAST of my worries. I’ll talk about this more later, but seriously, think about WHY do some folks have such a strong attachment to straws? Are you as perplexed as I am?

Back to my very bad history lesson. Eventually plastic became easy and cheap to make, so they started making plastic straws. This light and durable substance made it easier, cheaper, and quicker to make straws available to all Americans.

I got this information all from a great article by National Geographic which you can find here.

Now you’re asking me, Juliet, why are you so worked up about this? Isn’t it great that the world is going to be reducing plastic? Can’t you just let Starbucks make their money and enjoy life?

To that I say, read on friends.

Why Are People So Insistent On Banning Straws?

Your guess is as good as mine. I am extremely passionate about the amount of plastic being hauled off to the ocean and landfills everyday by lazy and uninformed Americans. I truly care about this topic.

You might have heard the statistic that 8 million tons (tons, not pounds, TONS) of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year. That doesn’t count the millions of tons that end up in landfills.

You may have also heard that in the US we go through 500 million straws a day. That’s nuts! That is too much! BUT when you look at the global problem of plastic trash, straws only account for 0.025% of that 8 million ton number. Straws, although dangerous for animal life, are such a tiny portion of the problem. I got this info from this awesome article, but be warned there is a dead bird on the front page.

So why, out of all the plastic pollution we create, have people attacked straws? My theory is that people feel really bad, and they are going after something that seems like an easy solution. As I said before when I stopped using plastic, straws were a no brainer. I have not purchased a reusable straw, I vowed to always ask for “no straw please” when ordering a drink, and I’ve never looked back. It’s not difficult for me to drink liquids out of an open cup, so I choose not to use straws. Easy as that.

The hardest part? Not buying useless crap I didn’t need but really wanted. Have you seen this picture? It came from a series of pictures showing the difference between a week’s worth of food for families all over the world. This is a type of food shaming I’m not in to, but if you look at the other countries there is far less plastic packaging.

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Look at all that happy, shiny, colorful, plastic! Oh it’s so glossy, clean, inviting. Now look closer. No, even closer. Really close. See those? Do you seem them? The two straws? Now take a look again at all the other plastic. Now look at the straws. See what I mean by easy? Pluck those two straws out of the picture and we are still left with at least 3 or 4 garbage bags full of plastic wrapping. To be fair, there are also straws in that Caprisun box, but again, what is 15 straws compared to all that other plastic?

Straws are the first simple step to getting rid of plastic. But when we focus so much on that first step, everything else falls away. Starbucks is getting rid of straws, kind of, but they are just replacing them with a bigger plastic lid. Are they going to eliminate their to-go cups all together? Are they going to stop lining their hot cups with plastic, making them dangerous and not eligible for recycling? Nope. They’re getting rid of STRAWS.

Here is a picture of some groceries I bought a long time ago that I posted. This obviously doesn’t feed a family of 4 for a week, but this is what my grocery trips look like. Almost entirely plastic free. And I didn’t think about straws ONCE during that shopping trip.

It is much easier for people to advocate for a straw ban and to stop using straws than to stop grocery shopping at Trader Joes. Seriously. Choosing your own convenience and comfort over the environment is not cool man. 

People Need Straws

Juliet, did you not just write an entire paragraph asking readers to contemplate why anyone would even need a straw? Yes, yes I did. As I said above I just don’t get why people like straws, but what I have discovered is some people need straws. But who???

Well one example is a student I had this year. Let’s call him Brian. Brian is a 5 year old autistic boy who will not, WILL NOT, drink liquids without a straw. One of his goals was actually to drink out of an open cup without a straw, but when you have a child who needs liquids and whose muscles in his mouth/lips can’t quite yet use an open cup, you give him a straw.

Or we can talk about people who have had a stroke and have lost control of one side of their mouth. Stroke survivors rely on straws to get liquids and nutrition into their bodies, especially in the days/weeks/months following a stroke. If we ban straws in cities, does that include hospitals as well?

What about someone with cerebral palsy who needs to use a straw to drink liquids? Or a someone with a traumatic brain injury? Or a small child who has some kind of disability that prevents her mouth muscles from developing at a typical time in life?

I can go on an on, I certainly have missed many people who do need straws. But the answer to the who? question is: people with disabilities*.

So then you think, ok yeah but can’t they just bring their own reusable straw like everyone else who insists on drinking liquids from a straw? Come on, it’s a small piece that they can just buy and bring with them everywhere.

That’s when I whip out this handy chart. I’ve seen this in multiple places, and thankfully there is a source on the bottom. Feast your eyes friends:

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If you have more questions about why reusables aren’t an option, please comment below I’d love to discuss. Now you might think, well then why can’t people with disabilities carry around their own plastic straws? To which I ask: do you bring your own toilet paper when you go out of the house? Do you bring a towel to dry your hands? When you get your haircut, do you bring your own scissors and comb? When you go out to dinner do you bring your own plate, cup, napkin, fork, knife, spoon, straw? No. You don’t.

When we remove straws from the everyday restaurant/cafe experience, we are disabling people who might need that item. We are, as a society, socially constructing a barrier for people who need access. To expect people to bring their own accommodations around with them everywhere is ableist and quite frankly, rude.

You may be aware that businesses and other public places need to provide accommodations for people in wheelchairs by providing ramps, lifts, and elevators. If we ban straws, they will just become another accommodation that will take years to be written into law.

We’ve Got a Big Problem on Our Hands

The solution to our plastic problem is simply not as easy as banning straws. This gives an allusion of an easy solution to a huge problem. Are we going to continue to ban single use plastic items? Maybe. Will that help? Sure. But what is going to ultimately create change is you. It all starts with you voting with your dollar. Tell your grocery store you expect more bulk item options. Ask for paper bags instead of plastic bags in the produce department. Bring your own jars to fill up bulk items. Stop buying stuff you don’t need. Fix things when they are broken.

Honestly this is a whole other blog post, or even a whole other blog. Here are some I love, let the masters show you how it’s done:

http://www.bezero.org/

https://www.yayforearth.com/

https://www.goingzerowaste.com/blog

Straw Bans Are Stupid, What Should We Do Instead?

I am so glad you asked!

Plastic disposable straws should be available by request only. No questions asked. If someone wants a straw, they get it. End of story. When we provide these accommodations to people with disabilities without forcing them to explain themselves, we are all creating a more inclusive society. Straws should not be standardly given to everyone, but it seems so unnecessary to make it difficult for people with disabilities to acquire them.

Many businesses have already gone straw free by only giving straws upon request. This works. They reduce their straw output, and those who need or really want a straw can get one easily. When we create a ban we create new laws and societal norms that effect everyone, and I think in this case, we have forgotten about a very important part of our society.

What do you think? Is keeping straws out of the ocean more important that the everyday lives of people with disabilities? Someone actually said this to me online, do you agree? Let me know! I’m curious!!

 

*I used an example using an autistic child, and I also use the term people with disabilities. I recognize most autistic people do not consider themselves to have a disability. To that I say, Right On. In this blog post I wanted to emphasize that the ban of straws will disable autistic people who need straws. If you find it offensive to lump autistics into people with disabilities, I apologize.

 

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