Straws: a luxury for some, but a basic necessity for others

Andrea Unzaga-Burgos/ Contributing Writer

A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members. If the nation does not accommodate disabled people’s needs, it’s not great.

In 2015, a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral. Campaigns to eliminate straws soon followed.

In a shot heard ’round the world, companies and cities decided that the best way to reduce plastic is to ban the use of plastic straws.

Starbucks announced that they will indefinitely ditch them globally by 2020 to help the environment.

McDonald’s restaurants in the UK and Ireland are doing the same.

Unfortunately, the impact of the video on social media accompanied by a widespread desire for meaningful change tragically ignores those who depend on bendy straws for a sip of water.

In Miami Beach, the campaign to ban plastic straws is expected to be fully rolled out by February 2019, according to the Miami Herald.

In other parts of the country, such as Seattle, this process is moving much quicker.

However, members of the disabled community feel as if their voices aren’t being heard.
Shaun Bickley, the Seattle disability commission chair said that Seattle Public Utilities never contacted his organization before banning plastic staws in Jully, according to NPR.

We should demand legal change from our government and large corporations, but what of our nation’s most innocent? Though this is a large step toward a cleaner and more sustainable environment, it leaves a lot of people out.

In 1947, Jordan B. Friedman, the creator of the bendable straw, initially targeted sales to hospitals as disability aids. The bend allows patients to drink in bed among other things. They’re also sterile, don’t disintegrate and can be used for hot liquids.

We should all minimize our plastic consumption, but disabled people rely on plastic for health and wellness.

Are legislators and straw manufacturers as easily swayed as the snowflakes who saw the turtle video and fueled the movement without thinking twice about the disabled community?

In my research, I came across a poll conducted by someone on twitter asking whether environmental issues were more important than the needs of disabled people.

I never thought I’d be triggered and suggest sensitivity training to someone over plastic straws.

While they’ve reassessed the ban in Seattle and now require restaurants to provide plastic staws upon request, Miami Beach plans to continue with the ban but is looking for alternatives.

However, we must consider the social stigma now associated with straws.

As if they could get a break from being socially marginalized, now disabled people are reminded of their incapacities on a night out with friends. While you might not think anything about drinking from a straw, following the straw ban movement, the people I’ve spoken to at FIU and online who have a disability say otherwise.

Restaurants aren’t the only ones marginalizing their customer base.

Alaska Airlines will soon be the first airline to go strawless in partnership with nonprofit Lonely Whale, which continues their commitment to sustainability even after acknowledging the threat the movement brings to the disabled community.

Although you can still purchase plastic straws in drug stores and such, that’s not an option mid-flight.

Thanks, Alaska Airlines!

You’re removing an entire group of clientele that will no longer be able to partake of your services.

If legislators and big corporations base their business decisions solely on the opinions of able-bodied people and the capital they bring in, what does that say about their philosophy?

Banning plastic straws is the lousiest environmental decision legislators and corporations have ever made in efforts to create a more sustainable environment.

Eight million tons of plastic fall into the ocean every year. Naturally, we should be alarmed and change our behavior; but straws only make 0.025 percent of the total plastic mass.

California is the most recent state to push this law, and any violation of the ban is punishable with jail time.

That’s right ladies and gentleman, the plastic straw ban punishes restaurant servers with the same sentence you could receive for knowingly transmitting HIV to someone.

What grinds my gears is knowing that America is responsible for less than 1 percent of the plastic in the ocean, but let’s not point fingers at other countries.

Though the misrepresentation in the report is due to their lightness and buoyancy, plastic straws make up 7 percent of the plastic on California’s shoreline, according to research conducted by environmental awareness group, Better Alternatives Now.

This number is not one to ignore but falls short in comparison to bottle caps at 9 percent and plastic bags at a hefty 17 percent.

Where are the laws on plastic bags?

Groceries like Aldi have been taxing bags for a while now.

Why are we discriminating and sacrificing the basic needs of a percentage of our population when there are clearly better alternatives?

My argument actually isn’t about straws at all.

Having seen the numbers, It’s clear that there are more effective ways to go about reducing plastic consumption.

This is about listening to the needs of disabled people and helping others to hear them. As a long time fan of the bendy straw, an avid hater of the leftist agenda and voice for the disabled community, I believe the ultimate decision should be left to the business owner, not corporations and definitely not the government.

But obviously, these things are not up to me, the voter.

I propose we channel the energy behind the straw law towards a plastic bag ban or perhaps the implementation of a tax deduction or monetary incentive for the citizens of California to reduce their carbon footprint.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Photo by Stock Catalog on Flickr.

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