By SEBASTIAN WHITAKER
Despite plastic straw bans becoming increasingly popular, plastic straws do serve a purpose for disabled people.
Environmental activist Emma Tkalčević said banning plastic straws without providing alternatives further marginalised disabled people.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that disabled people need flexible straws to drink,” she said.
“If we just ban plastic straws completely, and [companies] don’t know this, then they might replace all of their straws with [inadequate alternatives].”
Last month, Virgin Australia announced they would replace plastic straws with paper straws in all lounges and inflight services.
But paper straws aren’t a good alternative, Ms Tkalčević said.
“Because they get soggy when you drink out of them, a lot of [paper] straws are lined with plastic, which is not helping the issue,” she said.
Considering plastic straws were the seventh most collected item found along the world’s beaches and waterways according to the International Coastal Cleanup 2017 report, it’s easy to see why alternatives are needed.
Disability activist Rif’aa Mohamed said when it came to finding alternatives to plastic straws, the situation was nuanced, as many alternatives posed risks for disabled people.
“Most of these [alternatives] have similar amounts of issues: choking hazard, injury hazard, not position-able [and] can’t use [them] for a long time,” she said.
“For example, metal straws, which are quite popular, might not be safe for people with allergies or even people who experience seizures as it may injure their mouth.”
Ms Tkalčević is the co-founder of Strawstainable, a company aiming to provide bamboo straw alternatives specifically to businesses.
Bamboo straws are one of the most environmentally friendly alternatives out there, Ms Tkalčević said.
“It comes straight from nature without any chemical processing [and] it doesn’t use incredible amounts of power, water or resources to make,” she said.
Even though bamboo straws aren’t flexible, she said the solution was to provide straw alternatives (such as bamboo straws) for those who could use them while also accommodating disabled people.
“[We recommend] every restaurant still has flexible straws in case a person needs it, and they can just be asked,” she said.
Ms Mohamed said the solution was to still have plastic straws on offer if needed.
“Having a few straws available upon request at an establishment would aid disabled people,” she said.
“That way there’s less plastic straws being bought and also being thrown away, while also making sure disabled people have access to plastic straws.”
While individual approaches to environmental activism were helpful, businesses needed to be held accountable, Ms Tkalčević said.
“[Businesses are] producing an enormous amount of plastic waste, and that completely overrides all the effort a lot of people are trying to do,” she said.
Ms Mohamed said the solution lay in targeting corporations.
“These corporations should be held accountable for their actions, and I think that once people start targeting them, they’ll have to change their ways,” she said.