Friday, January 18, 2019

Straw bans: Not effective and they discriminate

Public efforts to reduce plastic waste in the ocean need to be thoughtful and have impact. A state legislative proposal to ban the sale and distribution of all plastic and compostable beverage straws is neither.

Dear Senators,

We are writing to express our strong concerns with SB 5077, which would prohibit the sale and distribution of plastic straws (including compostable straws) anywhere in the state.

Many disabled people rely on plastic straws to hydrate. Other materials do not offer the combination of strength, flexibility, and safety that plastic straws do. For instance, metal straws conduct heat and are an injury risk for people who can’t control biting down with their jaw. For that same person, biting down turns a paper straw into a choking hazard. There are similar issues with all other types of materials. 

A non-disabled person who goes to a restaurant or coffee shop can expect to receive everything they 
need to consume a product—they don’t have to bring their own cup. Refusing to provide plastic straws for disabled patrons is a failure in equity, which is why disability organizations have opposed these bills across the state and nation. This bill goes much further than local proposals, though. By banning the sale and distribution of beverage straws across the state, without exemption, disabled people who rely on straws would not be able to hydrate themselves and could be forced onto feeding tubes and more costly attendant care. This affects their basic right to live in the community.

While the bill directs the Department of Health and the Department of Social and Health Services to consult with stakeholders, it dictates that they will support the prohibition of plastic straws and assist individuals with disabilities to “transition” away from plastic straws. No number of meetings will make people who rely on plastic straws for health reasons suddenly not require them.

The effectiveness of straw bans is also questionable. While 8 million tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year, straws comprise just 0.025 percent of that. There is also no indication that banning plastic straws will reduce plastic waste. Starbucks’ voluntary ban has led to the company adopting lids that use more plastic, for instance. Scientists affiliated with Ocean Cleanup say that when measured by weight, fishing nets and gear make up nearly half of the plastic waste in our oceans.

Many people in Washington care deeply about reducing plastic waste and restoring our oceans to health – including residents with disabilities who happen to rely on straws to hydrate. Steps that we collectively take to reduce waste need to be thoughtful and have impact. Taking away basic access to something as fundamental as having a sip of water is neither.