Disabled people upset about plastic straw ban: ‘I don’t have the luxury of a plastic-free life’

DCNFJason Hopkins, DCNF

While many environmentalists are hailing decisions to do away with plastic straws in states, cities and big companies, advocates are pointing out that such bans will make life all the more difficult for the disabled.

The move to ban single-use straws from daily life is growing.

San Francisco supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to ban plastic straws. The new city ordinance will go into effect July 2020, with fines for violators ranging from $100 to $500. San Francisco follows Seattle in becoming the latest major U.S. city to ban plastic straws and utensils. In what would be a major development, legislators in California are considering a ban throughout the entire state.

Major U.S. businesses have also joined the movement. Starbucks announced in July that it is phasing out plastic straws from its coffee chains within the next two years. The Walt Disney company has also revealed plans to eradicate straws from their property by 2019.

However, not everyone is celebrating the bans.

“I know the environmental damage they cause, but I don’t have the luxury of a plastic-free life … I get uncomfortable and angry when I see non-disabled people behave as though they know the answer to this dilemma in exchanges that can get heated, if not abusive,” wrote Penny Pepper in a Guardian op-ed. Pepper, a disability rights activist, relies on the convenience plastic straws provide.

Unfortunately, for many people affected with physical impairments, the new ban in San Francisco does not explicitly factor in disability access, but it does add that “strict compliance” with the new ordinance is not required if it should “interfere with accommodating for any person’s medical needs.”

Critics argue that alternatives for single-use plastic straws — such as plastic lids or metal straws that can’t bend — are extremely difficult for people who have limited motor skills. Paper straws, others point out, can become soggy and disintegrate before a handicapped person is even able to finish their drink.

“The disability community is concerned with the ban because it was implemented without the input of their daily life experience,” said Katherine Carroll, a policy analyst for the Center for Disability Rights. “[I]t seems the blanket bans are not taking into account that they need straws.”

Major companies that are moving forward with plastic straw bans have promised to make accommodations. Starbucks says it will make an “inclusive design” for everyone to enjoy, and American Airlines plans to carry some straws on planes for people with special needs.

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