The Case(s) Against The Straw Ban
For the sake of the disabled:
On social media, many people are ecstatic about the crush of cities and businesses pledging to ban plastic straws once and for all. Ever since a video showing a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral, campaigns like #StopSucking for a strawless ocean have gained considerable traction. Seattle this month implemented a citywide ban on plastic straws, Starbucks announced on Monday that it will phase out the use of plastic straws by 2020, and many other municipalities and businesses are likely to follow suit. As one Twitter user posted, “My waiter asked ‘Now, do we want straws OR do we want to save the turtles?’ and honestly we all deserve that environmental guilt trip.”
But for many people with disabilities, going without plastic straws isn’t a question of how much they care about dolphins or sea turtles; it can be a matter of life or death.
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.
And also to… uhhh… use less plastic?
The World Wildlife Fund and Ocean Conservancy both provided ebullient quotes for Starbucks’ press releases. Liberal magazine The New Republic praised the move as an “environmental milestone.” Slate hailed the Starbucks straw ban as evidence of as a victory for a bona fide anti-straw movement, one that would hopefully lead to bans of more things plastic in years to come.
Yet missing from this fanfare was the inconvenient fact that by ditching plastic straws, Starbucks will actually be increasing its plastic use. As it turns out, the new nitro lids that Starbucks is leaning on to replace straws are made up of more plastic than the company’s current lid/straw combination.
Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size.
(I got these results by measuring Starbucks’ plastic straws and lids on two separate scales, both of which gave me the same results.)
This means customers are at best breaking even under Starbucks’ strawless scheme, or they are adding between .32 and .88 grams to their plastic consumption per drink. Given that customers are going to use a mix of the larger and smaller nitro lids, Starbucks’ plastic consumption is bound to increase, although it’s anybody’s guess as to how much.
And the main argument in favor seems to be… raising awareness?
Straw bans aren’t going to save the ocean, but they could jumpstart much-needed conversations about the level of non-biodegradable trash in them.