I’ve been hearing more and more about cities banning plastic straws or specific restaurants doing away with them and I have….some strong feelings…on this issue. If you haven’t been following it, NPR has a good summary, and multiple disability activists have written about why it’s an issue.
People who don’t need straws themselves are quick to opine on how cheap and easy it is to just carry a reusable one, or suggest that restaurants should offer only biodegradable options. But, every one of those options has their drawbacks, as illustrated in this handy chart.
The thing that I find the most frustrating is probably the judgmental nature of the criticism directed at anyone who complains about the straw ban. They must just be “lazy” or “not trying hard enough.” And yet, every single person in the industrialized world does things that are detrimental to the planet, for no other reason than their own convenience. If you use AC outside of massive heat waves, ever drive anywhere you could physically walk or bike, don’t use reusable bags for 100% of your purchases, or have ever ordered something online that you could have picked up locally, you don’t have room to criticize people who need single use straws. Or who just want to use them. Disabled people, like all people, deserve to enjoy things. If bringing a reusable straw is a hassle that you forget to do, or biodegradable straws make your drink taste weird, you still deserve to enjoy a freaking Frappucino. Even if you’re not going to aspirate fluid and die of pneumonia if you try to drink without a straw, but maybe it’s a bad pain day and lifting a glass hurts. It’s nobody else’s place to tell you that you must suffer for the environment, particularly if they’re not suffering themselves.
I also think people are ignoring all the times that having something to eat or drink *is* a medical issue. Sure, the majority of fast food and beverage purchases aren’t made by people who are about to keel over from dehydration or low blood sugar, but some are. I have vivid memories of being out with a friend who has hypoglycemia, who literally fell over because his blood sugar tanked, and being profoundly grateful that we could find a soda machine and he could get some sugar into his system. I’ve fortunately never had heat stroke, but I’ve been sick enough to vomit or almost pass out from heat on multiple occasions, and if I’d needed a straw for fluids and not had access to one, I could have easily ended up in the hospital.
If restaurants want to reduce plastic use, there are lots of ways to do it. If they want to start with straws, they can even do that without screwing over disabled people. Ask people if they want a straw, rather than offering it automatically. Make sure you’re providing a place to recycle. Offer a biodegradable option or sell reusable straws if you want, but don’t ask everybody to use these.
I’m iffy about suggesting this for big chains, because ableism is prevalent and getting everyone trained to the standard you want can be problematic. Leaving it to cashiers and baristas to make sure people who need straws get them might mean that people have to explain what their disabilities are, or get snotty comments about the environment from an overzealous employee. Or, they might be non-verbal, and the touchscreen menu doesn’t have a way for them to indicate that they need a straw with their drink. In all cases, I think it should be on the restaurant to offer, rather than the customer to ask.