While Price Tags has detailed the impending tea-mageddon that may occur when plastic straws are deemed ecologically unsound, and thus no longer available as an absolute necessity in bubble tea consumption, there are other groups which benefit from bendable, plastic straws — the elderly, and the disabled.
The importance of plastic straws for disabled users was commented on  Twitter by local disabled rights advocate Ms. Sinenomine. 
The BBC News also reported that most paper and plant-based alternatives are not flexible or suitable for drinks over 40C, therefore increases the risks of choking. Metal straws can be dangerous for people with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, whereas reusable plastic straws present hygiene concerns to people with specific health conditions.”
Just as we should be designing for universal accessibility in building, street and open space design, processes for banning single use plastics should also include user groups that are going to be disproportionately impacted by the ban. These groups need to be involved in finding a suitable alternative for continued use.
As one advocate speaking to the BBC observed, “businesses are understandably responding to environmental concerns, but in reacting so quickly the needs of their disabled customers risk becoming afterthoughts.”
Image: Little Things.com


  1. I canvassed for Green candidate Lynn Quarmby in 2015. I know that climate change is the greatest crisis facing us right now. But I think this is a hammer to kill a fly (though I am open to evidence otherwise). I am all in favour of measures to reduce the use of plastic straws, but I am absolutely against coercion. No human foolishness can change the facts about climate change, ocean acidification, or extinction, and I will remain concerned about those: but if this is what environmentalism has become, I want nothing to do with the movement.
    Acid reflux has eroded my teeth. Years ago my dentist told me to always use straws with acidic drinks (never mind the pain from the cold if I don’t). Set that aside: abandoning straws is trivial compared to the massive lifestyle changes required to address climate change.
    It’s self-evident that straws comprise a minuscule proportion of plastic waste. There’s also evidence. Maclean’s is running an article (“Why a ban on plastic straws sucks”). Unless its statistics are false, this is a big fuss about an insignificant amount of waste. If we want to reduce our use of plastics (and we should, if for no other reason to get it out of the food chain), we should probably start with synthetic fleece.
    When I look up justifications for the straw ban, I find confirmation: “A straw may be small, but it’s the DNA of carelessness and it just might be a gateway into solving the much larger issue of plastic pollution. They connect all of us, no matter where we live or how much money we make, and they’re an opportunity to start a conversation.” In other words, eliminating the straws is a drop in the bucket, but this is a way to mobilize people for bigger change.
    Prove it. If that really works, great (well, except that misleading people to mobilize them may not be a good long-term strategy): but I don’t buy it. I studied just enough environmental communication to be dangerous: from what I know, the effect (“single action bias”) goes exactly the other way. People think to themselves, “I gave up straws; I’ve done my bit.” They think our environmental problems are niggles that can be solved by tweaking our lifestyles.
    I don’t think the environment is the driving factor here. I think it’s the new Victorianism, which is mainly about giving people a sense of belonging and helping them feel secure in a time of uncertainty (as happened in the Victoria era; see Ben Wilson’s The Making of Victorian Values). We are all aware our way of life is in crisis but feel we can do nothing; that sense was brought to a head with Trump. Virtuous action solves the psychological problem regardless of whether it achieves anything material. It also lets us avoid facing the inevitable reckoning between out-of-control capitalism and the fate of our planet. The problem isn’t the straws, it’s the whole act of consumption of which they are a minute part. But facing up to that is too hard, so we load our sins on the straws and scapegoat them. In short, I think symbolic action like this neuters environmentalism to make it safe for capitalism.
    I am open to evidence that I’m wrong. I think that this is a time of big words and small actions (those not-small hands are such a wonderful metaphor) across the political spectrum. I make no claims to virtue myself. I’m on board for substantive collective change. For truth. Not truthiness.

  2. Wouldn’t paper or reusable plastic straws work in your case Geof? We’ve become too reluang on single use plastic items that live in landfills for eons. I just got off a flight from London and the amount of plastic for one airline meal was obscene. My “entree” in a solid plastic dish, covered in a plastic film, plastic cutlery, the salad in a separate plastic container and the dessert in another. A later snack was banana bread in a soft plastic wrap. Multiply that by over 400 people on just one flight! No wonder we have oceans choking on plastics!

    1. My point is not about my case: it’s not a huge deal. And I agree about the massive over use of plastics. It’s obscene.
      But banning straws doesn’t address that. Your example makes this clear: you summon up an image of plastic waste *that does not include straws*! I’m sure this is the image many people have in their heads. But the proposed remedy does not address the problem! On the contrary, it makes it easier for us to ignore it.
      I’m not going to criticize your choice to fly, because I sometimes do too, and I don’t believe voluntarism will solve our problems: but that flight is the problem. A flight is what percentage of one’s annual GHG emissions? So what do we ban? What do we talk about? The straw!
      It wasn’t the last straw that broke the camel’s back: it was all the other junk the poor creature was forced to bear. Removing the straw is an insult to the situation. I’m not setting up the perfect as the enemy of the good. I’m setting up the good up as the enemy of basically nothing at all.
      Ban the straw as part of a non-negligible proportion of the plastic we consume, and you’ve got my attention. Use voluntary measures to massively reduce straw use and you have my support. Ban it alone, and I think it’s pure cant.

  3. I’m afraid I might have to agree with Geof on this one. If there is a limited amount of political capital available to spend on environmental action in the city, and there certainly is a limited amount of time that the city staff have available to craft bylaws, etc., then that limited resource could probably be put to better use than banning plastic straws.
    I will be the first to admit that i’m not up to speed as to where Vancouver’s current bylaws stand, but there are perhaps bigger fish:
    Plastics used in food take-away containers, for instance – I can’t imagine those are all bio-degradable.
    While the suggestion from above that synthetic fibres represent a much bigger problem is true, I’m afraid that wouldn’t be within the city’s jurisdiction.
    That said, I have nothing against the general theme. For anyone reading this going “Huh?” I can confirm that paper straws are definitely effective drinking tools.
    And if this is the direction that the city is going on, I certainly wouldn’t oppose it. It’s not likely to have a major impact, but its impact will at least be positive.

    1. Worth noting, IMO, that there was a recent staff report on what the single use container strategy would cover, then a newspaper article about that report, then a series of tweets about that newspaper article, then a blog post or two about those tweets. We are at the second blog post, but I suspect that many haven’t read the staff report that started it all.
      Note that there is a broad focus on single use containers; the ban starts with polystyrene cups and take away boxes, it includes plastic straws, and also references plastic and paper bags.
      They aren’t banning straws at this point, they are saying that in principle they want to, and they have directed staff to run a consultation to the end of this year on what potential issues with that may be.

  4. “While the suggestion from above that synthetic fibres represent a much bigger problem is true, I’m afraid that wouldn’t be within the city’s jurisdiction.”
    That is an excellent point that I had not considered. Other than the plastic containers you suggest, the city may not have much scope for action. This makes the choice more understandable.
    I think part of what bothers me so much is the inclination to resort to a ban rather than incentives (like the five-cent fee for plastic bags: this is another problem that I think has been over-hyped, as cloth bags are probably actually worse for the environment, but the solution is not disproportionate). I read that elsewhere, plastic straw usage has been diminished by upwards 80-90% without a ban. Does that last 20% justify coercion? I don’t think so: coercion too easily becomes a habit applied indiscriminately. It should only be a last resort.
    It seems to me that there are many instances these days where people insist on dogmatic implementation of perfect solutions to tiny problems, rather than grappling with imperfect solutions to big ones. We can’t solve climate change on our own (or depose Trump), so instead we’ll insist on a complete ban on plastic straws (80% reduction is simply unacceptable!). Soon purity becomes the point, perspective is lost, and little is done about things that actually matter.

    1. Agreed. The irritating thing about politicians is how they always opt for big, flashy things that please Special Interest Groups but don’t get anything done, rather than less conspicuous ones that don’t and do.

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