Why banning plastic straws doesn’t solve the issue

Mariah Perez, Staff

Recently many people, companies and cities, including Seattle, have been declaring war on plastic straws. They say that plastic straws are bad for the environment, specifically that they are killing sea turtles. Anti-strawers claim only good can come from banning plastic straws in both sit down and fast food restaurant environments.

However, while it is true that straws– and plastics in general– are harmful to our environment, banning plastic straws does not actually address the problems of waste and pollution in our society. In fact, banning straws may cause many more problems than it attempts to solve.

Banning the use of plastic straws in restaurants can harm and alienate disabled individuals. Often times people with disorders such as Cerebral Palsy and Muscular Dystrophy need straws because they are unable to or have difficulty lifting a glass to their mouth. Getting rid of straws takes away some of the little independence afforded to disabled individuals, forcing them to rely on others for something as simple as taking a drink.

A lack of straws in restaurants can also be an issue for families dining with young children. Kids can also have difficulty handling glasses; the absence of a straw is likely to lead to more spills which can be a hassle for the parents as well as the waitstaff.

There are alternatives to plastic straws that some restaurants have considered. The most prevalent of these are disposable paper straws and reusable glass or metal straws, however these all come with issues of their own.

Paper straws are flimsier and more expensive than plastic straws and many restaurants don’t see a point in shelling out the extra cash.

Glass and metal straws are far more expensive than both the plastic and paper options. They are also notoriously difficult to clean and overall extremely impractical for mass use in restaurants, especially fast food places which rely on a cheap and disposable style.

Some chains, namely Starbucks, have declared that they will begin to phase out plastic straw use in their stores, replacing it with lids. And what will these new lids be made of, you may ask? Plastic.

Reduction in plastic waste is the main argument used by anti-strawers. They claim that banning plastic straws will greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste produced by Americans. However, straws account for only a small fraction of the millions of tons of plastic humans discard every year. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s annual report straws and drink stirrers only made up 3 percent of the total garbage found on beaches in 2017.

This pokes holes in the main argument of the anti-straw movement. The movement against straws is founded on flimsy arguments and does harm to already sidelined communities.

Banning plastic straws will not solve pollution or global warming but it could be the start of the conversation. Talking about the use plastic straws and the available alternatives gets people thinking about how much plastic they use and dispose of daily.

Ultimately, the best outcome of the anti-straw movement is one where people start replacing disposable plastic goods with environmentally friendly alternatives, while plastic straws are still available upon request for those who need them. Banning plastic straws is harmful and not very effective but for now it may be the best option we have.