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Ambassador report

Ambassador report

[Ambassador report] Can plastic straw bans be accessible? [Free report]

by Theodore Bechlivanis | 14-09-2020 22:38 Comments 8 Comments recommendations 0 recommendations

Plastic straws are everywhere. From our morning coffee to our evening drink, the use of plastic straws is so widespread that the average amount used and discarded every day has been the subject of heated debate. But ubiquity breeds contempt: fast food chains, airlines, and even entire countries have begun to phase out the iconic tube to mitigate the effects of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems. Praised by some as a step toward sustainability and criticized by others as a shallow cop-out that misses the bigger picture, the plastic straw ban has become the go-to for companies and governments trying to market themselves as green.

Whether the ban will have a meaningful impact on the environment is something we can’t know yet. The large amounts of plastic waste already floating in the ocean and the spotty distribution of plastic bans worldwide make it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the latter. Still, the gradual disappearance of single-use straws has brought to light a number of practicality issues; most prominently, that people with certain disabilities have a hard time using alternative drinking straws.

“How come I’ve never heard of this?”Disabled voices are vastly underrepresented in public discussion, and acceptance of the plastic straw ban has been extraordinarily loud. Many of us have never considered that stopping the use of something so trivial could come with casualties. It’s counterintuitive, even: at first glance, it’s simply swapping a known pollutant for its more sustainable alternatives. Unfortunately, the struggles of inaccessibility are often invisible to the nondisabled eye, so let’s take this from the top.

How does banning plastic straws affect people with disabilities?

The significance of plastic straws to many people with disabilities lies in the fact they can bend. Some individuals with mobility- or strength-related disabilities cannot lift cups high enough to drink without a straw, while those with motor control issues might find it difficult to keep their drink steady. The bendable end of plastic straws allows for flexible drinking and eliminates the constant stress of dropping a cup or spilling drink on oneself. Reusable straws, on the other hand, are often completely straight or bendable from end to end, which makes them impractical for individuals with poor motor coordination. Reusable straws made from hard materials – such as bamboo, pasta, glass, or metal – pose a choking hazard, and might cause injuries in case of a spastic episode or a tremor.

Of course, there is always the issue of coffee shops and bars being public spaces, and as such breeding grounds for tension. Asking untrained staff for a plastic straw when one isn’t provided can lead to a series of intrusive questions or ableist remarks, especially when the customer in question has an invisible disability. Although this is in keeping with company policy if a ban is in effect, all it does is put the customer’s disability up for debate, invading their privacy, and probably narrowing down the coffee shop’s clientele.

These are just a few of the reasons some disabled individuals opt for single-use plastic straws; but the same logic applies to multiple other commodities. The majority of spaces, services, and products across the world are already inaccessible in one way or another, forcing disabled folks to come up with roundabout ways of completing otherwise mundane tasks. Modifying a space or a product with no regard for its implications for disabled folks introduces a new variable to the already meticulous planning of everyday outings. Not only is this mentally taxing, it can prevent people with disabilities from fulfilling their needs independently.

Many of these accessibility hiccups are preventable, too. Big firms and city councils often have accessibility consultants on board (and if they don’t, they should, for the sake of satisfying their consumer base and citizenry respectively). Being able to accommodate everyone’s needs can be tricky, which is why these professionals are trained to provide the required know-how, be it towards hospitable architecture, web accessibility, or product design.

What is the takeaway from this discussion?

The issue with the plastic straw ban lends itself to a series of interesting talking points. Firstly, no form is universal in its function. If sustainable straw alternatives cannot be efficiently used by people with disabilities, the plastic straw should remain available until an accessible eco-friendly straw launches in the market. In a similar vein, disabled folks shouldn’t be accosted for using an unsustainable product when no safe substitutes exist for it. It is manufacturers who refuse to make sustainable products inclusive; and the lack of green alternatives to an item as unsophisticated as the drinking straw only adds insult to injury.

Secondly, and this might be a hard pill to swallow, some minor forms of pollution are unavoidable until a better solution is found. The word “minor” is used for a reason. While littering the ocean with plastic straws can have jarring consequences – we’ve all seen videos of people dislodging them from the nostrils of the occasional turtle or seabird –the difference in proportion with other plastics is abysmal. A study from the University of Georgia shows that 9 million tons of plastic drift to the ocean every year. Curiously, plastic straw pollution constitutes a meager 2000 tons/year, rounding up to 0.02% of the overall amount. The rest can be anything from microplastics to entire mounds of fishing paraphernalia, both hardly comparable to the quanta of plastic waste any disabled individual has the capacity to produce.

That being said, 0.02% is by no means negligible, as different kinds of trash can impact an ecosystem in different ways. However,  are we as a society prepared to sacrifice the right of people with disabilities to enjoy their morning coffee for a problem that can be approached differently? The advent of bioplastics offers fascinating solutions to plastic pollution, and the popularity of alternative drinking straws proves that the manufacturing techniques required to go green already exist, at least to a notable degree. Making these products inclusive is a matter of responsible research and development. For that to happen, manufacturers have to consider sustainability and accessibility beyond their usefulness in CSR. In the end, the common premise of these concepts isn’t survival. It’s dignified and inclusive survival; and if governments and corporations can’t figure that out for something as simple as the drinking straw, we’ve still got a long way to go until sustainability becomes equal participation.


SJ Mentor

  • SJ Mentor says :
    Greetings Theodore!
    It's your SJ mentor.

    Welcome to be as an ambassador to Tunza Eco Generation.
    Recently I've been working to handle plastic straw problem.
    Nowadays a lot of single-use plastic products are consuming.
    I suggest that substituting plastic straw to reusable straws such as glass straws, silicon straws, stainless straws.
    It would be little uncomfortable to carry the straws but this action can reduce the plastic wastes.
    I believe that his small action can be developed as more eco-friendly life style.
    Thank you for sharing your first informative report.
    I'll eagerly look forward to your next report.

    Best regards,
    SJ mentor.
    Posted 12-10-2020 02:27

Dolma Diki Sherpa

  • Dolma Diki Sherpa says :

    Thank you for sharing your report.
    Keep writing such informative report.
    We are keen to know more from you.

    Posted 17-09-2020 00:21

Mun WooJooMentor

  • Mun WooJooMentor says :
    Hello Theodore, this is your mentor WooJoo !

    Thank you for sharing your first report with us!

    This topic is really new and impactive to me, because I've never thought that just banning plastic straws could discomfort people with disabilities. Thanks to your report, now I know that maybe I should learn to think more in different perspectives.
    I agree that accommodating everyone??s needs is tricky, but still we've got to try.
    I hope the development of flexible/ soft biodegradable straws help these people.

    Thank you again for writing an amazing report.

    Best wishes
    Posted 16-09-2020 12:52

Asmita Gaire

  • Asmita Gaire says :
    Greetings Theodore
    I hope you are doing well
    I believe this plastic straws are not so difficult to ban. We can do it.
    Thank you so much for this report
    Green cheers
    Asmita Gaire
    Posted 16-09-2020 11:02


  • ALOK DHAKAL says :
    Thank you for sharing your report.
    Keep sharing with us nice reports like this.
    Really praiseable!
    Posted 15-09-2020 23:41

Sagar  Koirala

  • Sagar Koirala says :
    Hello Theodore,
    Green Cheers

    Very Informative and Wonderful Discussion

    Sagar Koirala
    Posted 15-09-2020 20:28

Paras Kunwar

  • Paras Kunwar says :

    Hello Theodore,
    Greetings and namaste form Nepal
    Thank you for sharing your report.

    Keep sharing reports,
    keep writing
    We are looking forward to know more from you.

    Paras Kunwar
    Posted 15-09-2020 19:24

Diana Gamazova

  • Diana Gamazova says :
    That's so cool!
    Green Cheers!!
    Posted 15-09-2020 17:14

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