Theresa May has announced that there will be a consultation into some banning some prevalent single-use plastics, including plastic straws and cotton swabs.
However, some people with disabilities find plastic straws to be be a key utensil, and are disappointed at the government’s lack of consultation with disability groups.
Jamie Szymkowiak, co-Founder of Scottish disability rights organisation One in Five, told i that people with disabilities that cause impaired movement “find plastic straws an essential tool for independent living.”
Plastic straws are essential for some people with disabilities
“The accessibility of the plastic straw that makes many disabled people anxious about an outright ban,” he said. “The idea of ‘disability’ includes people with different needs and impairments, and plastic straws are useful.”
Szymkowiak told i that plastic straws are so key for people with disabilities as they’re flexible, widely available and cheap. Alternatives to plastic straws are often unsatisfactory. Metal and bamboo straws are too strong, and can cause injury for people with Parkinson’s.
Bio-degradable alternatives often can’t be used above a certain temperature, so aren’t usable with hot drinks, or soup. The leading manufacturer of bio-degradable straws in the UK, Plastico, produces straws that can’t be used with liquids above 40 degrees, while the average Starbucks coffee is served at 70.
Paper straws are often used as an alternative, and Szymkowiak says that “disabled people can take longer to drink and paper straws become soggy which is a choking hazard.” This can be exacerbated for people with learning difficulties who may not notice the deterioration. They are also inflexible, a problem for people with mobility issues.
Finding a solution that works for everyone
Often disabled people are told to bring their own straws, but Szymkowiak points to a report from SCOPE that says people with disabilities already face extra costs of £570 a month, and needing to carry straws is an extra difficulty and expense.
He also wrote a blog for Greenpeace, saying that it is still important to get rid of unnecessary plastic. “As we move to ridding our oceans, beaches and parks of unnecessary single-use plastics, disabled people shouldn’t be used as a scapegoat by large corporations,”
Szymkowiak said to i that the “the government should work with manufacturers to find a suitable alternative.”
In Scotland, which is also in the process of banning plastic straws, the government’s expert panel has appointed a disability adviser to ensure actions taken don’t disproportionately affect disabled people, something Szymkowiak says Michael Gove, the Enviroment Secretary, should also do.