Another environmental cause with a lot of social complexity is the anti-straw movement. The idea that not using plastic straws to reduce ocean pollution has risen in popularity in the past few years. It’s an easy issue to get behind – straws are exceedingly common, and for many people/beverages, unnecessary. While we should definitely reduce the usage and production of plastic straws, the debate surrounding plastic straws has come to represent a lack of flexibility in current discourse about environmentalism, ableism, and partisan politics. 

There are many reasons why plastic straws are a terrible environmental hazard. Many alternatives to plastic straws are available, including metal, paper, and aluminium straws. But these substitutes are often inaccessible to people with disabilities, who sometimes need straws to drink.

According to Maria Godoy and Tove Danovich of NPR’s Morning Edition, “there are many alternatives to plastic straws — paper, biodegradable plastics and even reusable straws made from metal or silicone. But paper straws and similar biodegradable options often fall apart too quickly or are easy for people with limited jaw control to bite through. Silicone straws are often not flexible — one of the most important features for people with mobility challenges. Reusable straws need to be washed, which not all people with disabilities can do easily. And metal straws, which conduct heat and cold in addition to being hard and inflexible, can pose a safety risk.”

I propose the following:

  • Make plastic straws available upon request
  • For people able to do so, to use alternatives or no straw at all
  • To not shame people who may require a plastic straw
  • Recycle plastic straws, they are generally too lightweight to make it through industrial recycling, here are some suggestions for recycling straws.

The abundance of plastic straws in the ocean, polluting the ocean and presenting a choking hazard to marine life – it is not controversial to suggest that this is terrible. But in a politically fractured country, it seems that we have to actually argue in favor of the ocean’s health. 

Prioritizing environmental causes has become such a partisan issue that U.S. administration is selling “Trump” branded plastic straws for their re-election campaign. While they are advertised as recyclable and reusable, they are still plastic. And straws are hardly traditional campaign merchandise, so it’s clearly an unkind message to the anti-plastic straw movement. Reducing your potential ocean waste is a good thing no matter your political affiliation, and coming out as a political party against paper straws is not helpful. Why are we allowing the enviroment’s desperate state to become a two-sided political squabble? We should all be united against ocean pollution, while making sure that environmentalism does not exacerbate inaccessibility.

Another issue with the straw debate – why are we focusing so heavily on consumer behavior like plastic straw use and beef consumption, instead of putting pressure on the corporations responsible for such wide scale environmental damage? I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to reduce environmental waste in our personal lives, but we also should demand institutional change. We can make our voices heard by calling our representatives, going to group protests if we can, and trying not to support corporations that create vast waste. Last year, after many years of political squabbles, New York City banned styrofoam containers and plastic bags. Despite the complexities of state politics, institutional change is possible!

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