Is banning plastic straws ableist???

I got myself in a little bit of trouble with my first blog post about plastic straws.  Proper naughty corner time.

I’d watched that video of the turtle with the straw up it’s nose and it’s fair to say I was less subtle than perhaps I could have been.  With that said, even after the torrent of “you’re ableist” abuse that I was surprised to receive, I stood by my comments – single use plastic straws do make me mad and I do judge people who chose to use them.  There, I’m a rubbish human.

I wasn’t the first to speak out about plastic straws and I certainly haven’t been the last.  Pubs , cafes and restaurants (WetherspoonsWagamama & Pizza Express to name a few) are dropping plastic straws at speed, Dame Vivien Westwood has backed the Plastic Planet’s campaign to ditch the straw and the Scottish government has promised to ban the production and sale of plastic straws completely by the end of 2019.  It’s this last one which provoked a response I’d seen before but this time, the criticism made me question myself.

The ableism accusations I received all came from able bodied people who were unswerving despite some fairly strong arguments in return from those who do live with disabilities.  The Scottish Government however have been accused of ableism from someone in a position to understand what it truly means and what it is to live with a disability.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is a Welsh Paralympian, who has said that some disabled people could be seriously impacted if disposable plastic straws are banned – and she’s not the only one.  There is a growing voice of concern over this.  The argument is that glass straws aren’t safe (sounds fair) reusable straws may present hygiene problems (hmm, ok, I guess they’re harder to wash but not impossible – I’ll bow to this one though), and that metal and paper straws are unsuitable for hot drinks.  The metal bit I get – it gets hot, the paper bit due I assume to them dissolving.

I wasn’t sure what would be the best solution and was trying to think of new exciting alternatives (when I say exciting, just, well, they’re straws, I guess exciting is a stretch).

Then I gave up and went to the pub where a nice bar tender dropped a paper straw into my drink.  At the end of the night I realised that that one paper straw had been used in all three drinks (I have kids, three drinks is a big night for me) but it still looked, felt and worked, exactly like it did at the start.  Well, I’m teaching my kids to never take things on face value and to always check for yourself so that little straw came home with me.

The next morning, I stuck that straw into my coffee to see what happens – nothing happened.  In fact, I drank the whole drink, quite slowly because as already mentioned – three kids – so not much time to drink a coffee all in one go and still the straw did not degrade.  It hadn’t gone soggy, nothing came away it, it didn’t flavour the coffee (ok, so a slight hint of vodka lemonade but I’m guessing that’s due to the dubious hygiene aspects of my experiment rather than the straw itself).  Hm, coffee cups do this and they have plastic in – so I set the straw on fire, and it burnt, like paper, just paper.  Look, I even took a pic…..

So, my point is, paper straws do work in hot drinks.  What else am I missing here?  Could it be that the argument against a plastic straw ban on the basis that there are no alternatives for those with relevant disabilities is also based on assumptions?  That’s certainly how it seems to me and until someone can prove me wrong, I’m keeping my “ban the straw” stance.

6 thoughts on “Is banning plastic straws ableist???”

Damon M

This whole protest is a load of rubbish when you consider paper straws. It’s even worse when you consider the low numbers of people that would /actually/ be affected by the ban (and not the ones yelling “ableist!!!!11” or the ones who have yet to realise that there are other straws than plastic), versus the sheer amount of plastic waste if production was to continue.

Good on you for speaking out!

Signed,
A disabled person who uses metal AND paper straws

Michael

Hi there, fellow able body just weighing in on your blog. That’s great that you went through different experiments to help reassure you that you’re able to use a straw the same way most other able bodied people are able to use them. One of the problems with paper straws that you haven’t tried yet is grasping the straw with your teeth! Some people that lack or have limited mobility with their jaws, for instance someone with cerebral palsy, must be able to clench the straw between order to hold it in their mouth independently. A second problem is that they’re not flexible so for someone who also has limited mobility in their neck might have trouble with this as well. Now I’m not talking about catering to someone that’s had a neck injury and they’re wearing some sort of neck brace. I’m talking about people living with developmental diseases, people limited by their bodies that doesn’t get better over time, rather they tend to slowly get worse as they age. It should also be noted no two disabled are alike! Just because paper and metal straws work for some people with disabilities does not mean it will for others. Also some people with disbalities cant use straws or lips of cups and must have it poured or squirted so they won’t even be affected! But for the people that depend on them, there should be an exception that shouldn’t be abused by the able bodied.

Signed,

Able bodied caregiver for adults living with I/DD.

    Helen Wright

    Hi Michael, I completely agree that there needs to be exceptions where a genuine alternative can’t be found but my issue is that this is being used by a very loud but growing minority to stop the conversation on straws. People are being attacked for discussing it (not by your comment here which is completely fairly written). I still feel they should be banned, and am completely happy with exceptions where need determines (in the same way that speed limits don’t apply to emergency services, everyone has to be catered for) but we shouldn’t have these straws openly available to all and I believe strongly that having the discussion without aggression is important. More input similar to yours is required and less of the “ableist” accusations which we’ve seen in the press or on social media.

Kat

Thank you for this .. I whole hearted agree. My son is disabled and usually won’t eat or drink without a straw.. we have bevreusing and using alternatives for years as well
I always carry with me just in case. I was completely attacked and horrifically abused on twitter for my stance and called ableist and several other things. It was awful. I feel like some just want to use this as a reason not to care about the environment over convenience.. because it is an inconvenience for us all.. then outright lies were spewed about the alternatives not being good enough and how I was now a bad mother to my child??? It was just awful. The worst insults came with ‘oh because you can carry a straw with you you think everyone can..? I was like yeah kinda I do and if you can’t I’m sure every business will help you it’s the law.. and I was only abused more.. there are some real lovers of the single use straw

Ande

Paper straws do not flex the way plastic ones do. Yes, some disabled people can use paper or metal straws BUT not all disabled people can. I have family members who are disabled and they need the flexibility of the plastic straws since they can’t handle the cup. Also, some people have issues that extend to the feel of the straw material – and any material other than their preference can send them off the deep end.

Carrie

I have been (and always will be!) a radical , 3rd wave feminist but it’s really sad to see this anti environmental protest being made this way.

I tell you, my grandma needed a bendy straw to drink… Do you think she went *anywhere* without one?? It’s so f$&#@ presumptuous to think that people who need am accommodation like that wouldn’t go around with that already taken care of. Its literally almost like most of these people have no concept of what life with disability is like.

The feminist flag that I still carry, increasingly lonely, is a feminism which is radical in every way. Including saving the earth and actually being intelligently informed. This gross reaction is so sad I really can’t get over it. It’s not the first time either. Looking at you cultural appropriation debate.

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