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Open Access: Friendly fire in the war on plastic straws

This is the sixth week of Open Access.



In an effort to reduce plastic waste in our oceans and water ways, society has declared war on plastic straws, with many restaurants promising to ban them, if they haven’t done so already.

In the United States, many cities have already made them illegal.  With so many other things made of plastic, it’s unreasonable that straws are the subject of a ban, but many other disposable plastic items remain. What the people who are putting this ban into practice fail to realize, is just how important straws are to people with various disabilities. While straws are useful to me, I am not in desparate need of them, but hearing that there are those who are, I was intrigued, and decided to research the matter further. 

It has been brought to my attention that straws are essential for people who suffer from a number of mobility issues. I’ve spoken with people who have arthritis, and fibromyalgia, among other conditions. They have mentioned that these conditions prevent their fingers from working properly, making it hard to grip a cup. Their arms may not function properly, so lifting the cup to their lips may not always be an option.

What’s more, with many conditions come tremors, and other involuntary movements, resulting in spillage. Even after the drink makes it to their lips, some people have issues with breathing and swallowing. Straws not only help them regulate how much fluid they are taking in, but they prevent them from aspiration and choking issues. 

Many alternatives exist, when it comes to drinking straws, but they too, have their fallbacks. Paper straws, while biodegredable, can be flimsy, and if the person doesn’t finish a drink quickly, they may disintegrate. Also, for those with muscle issues, they do not have the strength of a plastic straw. One can inadvertantly bite through a paper straw, and cause injury.

Metal straws have also been suggested. I recently heard of a woman with a jaw issue who had a muscle spasm while using a metal straw, and she ended up chipping several of her teeth. Another person complained that when using these straws to drink hot drinks, one’s mouth can be severely burned. Others have mentioned that they can be difficult to clean. Personally, I would have a problem seeing if the straw was clean or not, with my vision. How is one supposed to get in there, with a pipe cleaner? That creates a whole new kind of waste. 

Instead of banning straws, why don’t we do something about those big plastic cups that icy drinks come in, from the various coffee shops? I will admit it’s easier to drink a Frappe through a straw, but that doesn’t mean a disposable glass is required. Where availale, I ask for reuseable glasses, and take them back to the counter when I am done.

If I’m going to sit in a coffee shop anyway, there really is no reason to use a to-go cup. Then there are plastic take-out packages. I know Starbucks makes a Bistro Box with apples, nuts, cheese, crackers, and cranberry raisons that I particularly enjoy, but it pains me every time I see that plastic box. There has got to be a better way to package those.

I ordered take-out not long ago, and it came in biodegradable cardboard packaging. I was impressed, and made sure the restaurant knew it.

I’ve also read that biodegradable plastic can be made out of hemp. How cool would that be? If biodegradable plastic exists, why aren’t we using it everywhere plastic is necessary? 

In order to keep plastic out of our oceans, there are other measures we can take. 

Let’s stop the balloon releases. What goes up must come down, and there have been many accounts of those used balloons winding up in the stomaches of fish and other wildlife. 

Let’s stop flushing condoms down the toilet. That one sounds like a no-brainer to me, but I’ve spoken to workers at waste treatment plants who say this is a huge issue. 

Instead of selling water in plastic bottles, why isn’t it sold in cans? Those cans are very easily recycled, and they are more durable than those flimsy plastic bottles. 

Put 6-packs of cans in biodegradable cardboard boxes, instead of using those wretched 6-pack holders that have been responsible for the death of vast amounts of fish and wildlife, through the years. 

Cigarette butts! Don’t even get me started. 

Disposable grocery bags made of biodegradable plastic would work well. I live in an apartment, and grocery bags are very useful in the garbage chute. At $0.05 a bag, I get better value than if I bought actual garbage bags. We have recycling boxes for glass, cardboard, aluminum and paper, with the rest going in a bag, and down the chute. 

It’s time we start thinking about people with disabilities, before we ban something outright. 

Author’s Note

After submitting this column, I happened to go to The Second Cup at Gordon & College, where I was given my first ever biodegradable straw. I was overjoyed, and it gave me a perfect opportunity to mention The Guelph Post and my column. The straw is made of a light cardboard, as opposed to paper. It can be flattened if bitten, so if you have jaw and muscle issues, be careful. It’s holding together nicely, but it’s integrity around the top changed slightly with the moisture of natural use. I lifted it out of my drink and felt the submerged portion. That is holding together nicely amid the slush of my frappe, without much change. The next time one of the less mature tells me I suck, I can honestly say “I sure do, and through a biodegradable straw.”