What non-disabled people need to understand about the straw ban

In early July, Starbucks announced they would slowly work towards eliminating plastic straws by 2020. The move, meant to help combat consumer waste, is just the latest in the #strawban movement. The company plans to instead use lids made of recycled plastic — picture a sippy cup for adults — and straws made of alternative materials. Starbucks is far from the first global retailer to initiate a ban plastic (McDonald’s is currently testing a non-plastic alternative), but they are the largest. According to Fortune Magazine, the ban will result in more than a billion plastic straws per year being removed from Starbucks stores.

In response to Starbucks’ announcement, Disabled Twitter took took to the internet to raise our concerns. It’s a sad truth that, when it comes to accessibility, disabled people are often an afterthought.

Since *most people* don’t need this, *most people* won’t be hurt by losing it.”  It’s a narrative that disabled people are used to, unfortunately.

While many able-bodied people can drink perfectly fine without the use of straws, those with certain physical disabilities cannot. Muscular deterioration, neurological disorders, bone brittleness, prosthetics not designed for fine motor skills, and cancer recovery are just a few examples of numerous conditions that may require people to use straws to drink safely or at all.

I should know.

There are days when my fibromyalgia makes it impossible to even lift up a cup. I’ve felt just as upset, insulted, and left out by the straw ban as does the rest of the disabled community.

Rather than include us in the conversation, some non-disabled people tried to suggest alternatives to suit our needs. Suggestions such as paper, metal, and reusable straws were all offered up — and  even long pasta.

But some disabled people require several hours to drink a beverage, and paper straws dissolve in that time. Some disabled people experience temperature sensitivity, and metal straws would transfer heat and cold. Reusable straws need to be cleaned — and cleaned well — to avoid bacteria growth. How is a disabled person who is unable to hold a cup supposed to be able to thoroughly wash several straws every day?

I won’t even touch on that pasta suggestion.

Some able-bodied people fought the disabled community’s concerns in an entirely different way: by attacking our environmentalism.

Tweets claiming that it’s our duty as inhabitants of Earth to “compromise” argued that the straw ban was a small sacrifice. One even necessary for disabled people, despite their physical needs. Other Twitter users attempted snark, arguing that a polluted Earth would impact disabled people as much as anyone.


However, we know surprisingly little about the environmental impact of plastic straws.

And what we do know came from a 9-year-old.

One of the biggest statistics used against straws is that Americans use 500 million of these plastic tools a day. But that critical stat is from a telephone survey conducted by then 9-year-old Milo Cress in 2011. And it’s a number that can’t be substantiated.

But even if this number is accurate, straws still aren’t the major environmental problem.

According to Bloomberg, Australian scientists estimate that if all the straw waste, as estimated by Cress, ends up in the sea, it would only account for .3% of the 8 million metric tons of plastic pollutants that enter the ocean every year. However, 46% of the plastic waste in the ocean’s garbage patch is a result of fishing nets.

Ultimately, our livelihood shouldn’t have to be compromised for our environmentalism. Suggestions made to the community about how to live — no matter how well meaning — are ableist if they don’t consider our needs, not to mention this suggestion isn’t even the most effective way to protect our planet

Like any other marginalized people, we want our voices heard, our needs recognized, and our concerns met. Talking over us won’t work. Ignoring us won’t either. Because when it comes to fighting for the rights of disabled people, we’ll never stop.

Filed Under