On plastic straws and ableism

I never imagined that straws could be a controversial topic. I thought that plastic straws were 100% evil and straw bans were 100% good. However, I’ve since learned that the situation is much more complicated.

The thing is, certain people NEED plastic straws with their beverages. Some disabled people absolutely need them to be able to drink without aspirating liquid. It’s literally a matter of life and death. I know, I know, there are lots of alternatives out there. But there are very valid reasons why not all of those alternatives work for every person. As an able-bodied person, it’s not my job to police, or shame, people for this. It’s not the job of servers or restaurants. No one gets to decide who “looks disabled”. As an able-bodied person, it is my job to listen, learn, and act accordingly. Unfortunately this clearly doesn’t always happen, as shown by the now viral thread by @ehlersdanlosgrl and shared by @theconsciouskid.

This is a prime example of ableism at work. As environmentalists, it’s important that we acknowledge these topics head on. We were wrong—and an outright straw ban is wrong. Yes, the people who don’t need plastic straws shouldn’t use them. Perhaps we need some other solution, like providing plastic straws on request (without policing people!). But again, it’s not for me to decide.

There are many ways someone can be an environmentalist, and straws are just one tiny example. For example, they make up 0.025% of ocean plastic. Fishing gear, meanwhile, makes up 10%.

As a person who is privileged in many ways, it can sometimes be uncomfortable to enter into these conversations, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I don’t know whether to add to the conversation or stay quiet and listen. But since I have a little voice in the Zero Waste world, I decided that I should say something. I’m not always right, but I try to keep my mind open, learn from my mistakes, and acknowledge when I was wrong.

LeahStellaPayne-Sig-BLK

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