Plastic straws are important

September 26, 2019
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo by Cindy Cui /  Photo Editor

By Ember, Contributor

Recently, there’s been a lot of push for individual initiatives to combat climate change. This can be considered admirable and noble – but they hardly scratch the surface of the problem. These initiatives tend to overlook industries as the largest contributors to climate change, the Global North’s role in plastic pollution and they place misdirected blame on disabled people.

In a scientific paper that outlines that the Pacific Ocean is rapidly accumulating plastic, Laurent Lebreton et al. states the following findings.

“Over three-quarters of the [Great Pacific Garbage Patch] mass was carried by debris larger than five cm and at least 46 per cent was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for eight per cent of the total mass but 94 per cent of the estimated 1.8 (1.1–3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area,” they say.

Almost half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’s mass is abandoned gear from industry fishing. Another 20 per cent of the mass is thought to be remnants from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In comparison, Seth Borenstein, a journalist, noted the extremely small proportion of plastic waste made up of plastic straws.

“Straws on average weigh so little – about one sixty-seventh of an ounce or .42 grams – that all those billions of straws add up to only about 2,000 tons of the nearly nine million tons of plastic waste that yearly hits the waters,” Borenstein said. 

Banning plastic straws seems pretty asinine when you consider a few different factors. It’s interesting how alternatives like the new Starbucks lids were created to replace the use of plastic straws, but they have been found to contain an equivalent amount or more plastic than what a plastic straw contains. Christian Britschgi, an associate editor at Reason, described the miniscule impact of the Starbucks nitro lids.  

“Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size,” said Britschgi.

Point blank, this “solution” is performative – it is a cheap tactic spearheaded by a corporation to make the common folk feel like they’re making a difference in regards to climate change when it really amounts to nothing. 

Then why not use paper straws or reusable straws? Well, because these options are awful. Often times, banning plastic straws does not take into account how alternative straw materials can be detrimental to disabled people. 

 “Biodegradable [straw] options often fall apart too quickly or are easy for people with limited jaw control to bite through. Silicone straws are often not flexible – one of the most important features for people with mobility challenges. Reusable straws need to be washed, which not all people with disabilities can do easily. And metal straws, which conduct heat and cold in addition to being hard and inflexible, can pose a safety risk,” said Godoy.

Another thing to keep in mind is that biodegradable straws can also be made of soy – a common allergen – and because it isn’t food, corporations aren’t required to disclose ingredients on the packaging. 

Putting the responsibility on disabled people to survive in public without plastic straws because you don’t believe stores should offer straws is venomous. 

It’s not that disabled people don’t care about the environment – we absolutely do. But instead of demonizing us for existing, shouldn’t able-bodied people help create an accessible, environmentally friendly alternative to plastic straws? 

Currently, I am a student studying earth and environmental science, and I’m aiming to get a minor in sustainability. I am also disabled and I realize that climate change is larger than any one of us. 

However, it’s important to note that often disabled people are the ones being accused of holding the environmental movement back, while corporations are conveniently cropped out of the frame. The big picture of climate change and environmental collapse is large enough for all of us to fit inside – so please don’t forget that industries play a large part, too.


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