Why Global Citizens Should Care
Single-use plastics are greatly harming the planet and sustainable alternatives exist. But in transitioning to these alternatives, it’s important not to leave those with disabilities without a resource. You can take action on these issues here.

San Francisco will soon become the latest city to ban plastic straws.

An ordinance was passed by the Board of Supervisors this week, prohibiting the city’s restaurants, bars, and retailers from offering customers plastic items, such as straws, stirrers, or toothpicks, reports The San Francisco Chronicle.

“This is about changing people’s behavior,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safaì, who co-sponsored the ordinance along with Supervisor Katy Tang, in an interview with the paper. “Do you really need to offer a straw with a glass of water?”

The ordinance must still pass a second reading and be presented to the mayor, but is anticipated to go into effect July 1, 2019, according to the report.

The measure will further prohibit retailers from selling any single-use food service products made with fluorinated chemicals and mandate they provide products, such as condiment packets and napkins, only upon request or at self-service stations, noted the Chronicle.

The move follows other cities, such as San Luis Obispo, Malibu, and Seattle, which have already pushed to eradicate the use of single-use plastics due to their detrimental impact on the world’s oceans and underwater life.

Eight million metric tons of plastic pollute the world’s oceans each year, or what amounts to “one garbage truck into the ocean every minute,” according to a 2016 report released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

But not everyone supports the environmental shift away from plastic straws.

Disability rights advocates argue that members of their community has been left out of the conversation around plastic straws, which are an indispensable part of daily life for many, noted Time in an earlier article.

“The disability community is concerned with the ban because it was implemented without the input of their daily life experience,” said Katherine Carroll, policy analyst at the Rochester, New York-based Center for Disability Rights, in the Time report. “Plastic straws are an accessible way for people with various disabilities to consume food and drinks, and it seems the blanket bans are not taking into account that they need straws and also that plastic straw replacements are not accessible to people.”

Some of the popular alternatives to plastic straws, such as paper, metal or pasta, are unsuitable for those with certain disabilities, argue activists. Eradicating plastic straws entirely from retailers and restaurants will severely impact the quality of life for those who depend on them.

An op-ed penned by San Francisco resident Alice Wong, who lives with a disability, published on Eater earlier this month articulated her own struggles to patronize local cafes, taquerias, and bars in her wheelchair and how eliminating plastic straws will exclude her from society.

“Two items I always ask with my drinks are a lid and a plastic straw, emphasis on plastic,” wrote Wong. “Lids prevent spillage when I’m navigating bumpy sidewalks and curb cuts; straws are necessary because I do not have the hand and arm strength to lift a drink and tip it into my mouth. Plastic straws are the best when I drink hot liquids; compostable ones tend to melt or break apart.”

She also argues that putting the burden on those with disabilities to navigate finding their own alternatives is discriminatory.

“People have told me online that I still have access to biodegradable straws at Starbucks, despite my reasons for using plastic ones,” she wrote. “People have told me to bring my own reusable straws without thinking about the extra work that entails. Why would a disabled customer have to bring something in order to drink while non-disabled people have the convenience and ability to use what is provided for free? This is neither just, equitable, nor hospitable.”


Defend the Planet

Plastic Straws Will Soon Be Illegal in San Francisco

By Joanna Prisco