Banning Plastic Straws Is Friendly To The Earth, But Not To People With Disabilities

In May, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the U.K. will look into banning plastic straws and stirrers, as well as cotton swabs with plastic stems. (Hey PM, the White Sox beat you to the punch.) But a report from iNews makes one thing clear: in at least one way, the straw ban could really suck.

Jamie Szymkowiak is the co-founder of One in Five, a Scottish disability rights organization. He told iNews that the potential ban disregards the lives and needs of disabled people, some of whom "find plastic straws an essential tool for independent living."

The problem isn't simply that people with limited mobility or other impairments use straws in their everyday life. It's that many of the replacements for cheap, flexible plastic straws can be unsatisfactory, unusable, and even hazardous.

Metal and bamboo straws are too strong, and can cause injury for people with Parkinson's. Bio-degradable alternatives often can't be used above a certain temperature, so aren't usable with hot drinks, or soup. The leading manufacturer of bio-degradable straws in the UK, Plastico, produces straws that can't be used with liquids above 40 degrees, while the average Starbucks coffee is served at 70.

Paper straws are often used as an alternative, and Szymkowiak says that "disabled people can take longer to drink and paper straws become soggy which is a choking hazard." This can be exacerbated for people with learning difficulties who may not notice the deterioration. They are also inflexible, a problem for people with mobility issues.

This doesn't mean trying to limit the amount of plastic waste that winds up in our oceans is a bad idea. Far from it. But Szymkowiak argues that "the government should work with manufacturers to find a suitable alternative." It's a good reminder that sometimes what appears to be a perfect, positive idea only seems that way because other perspectives haven't been examined—or alternately, that what seems silly and wasteful (like pre-peeled oranges) to one person can be positive and life-changing for another.