How a plastic straw ban could hurt disabled people

Plastic straws.
Plastic straws. Photo credit: Getty

Disability advocates are asking to be spoken to before plastic straws are banned.

Coffee giant Starbucks will be removing the straws by 2020 and Countdown will be removing the straws from their stores by October 2018.

The UK is now considering a plastic straw ban, Environment Minister Michael Gove told The Telegraph to "watch this space" in February.

But disability advocates in the UK say they need to use straws to drink.

"A significant number of us rely on the humble plastic straw to be able to drink a glass of water, wine or a cup of coffee," UK woman Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds told the BBC in March.

Metal, glass or paper straws are often touted as a replacement, but they can be difficult to use or dangerous for some disabled people.

"Some people, because of their specific impairment, need the flexibility/bendiness that only plastic straws can currently provide," said CCS disability action national policy coordinator Sam Murray told Newshub.

"The alternatives to single-use plastic straws… tend to be rigid and not able to be bent."

National disability leadership coordinator Richard Buchanan agreed, saying his experiences using alternative straws have been less satisfactory.

"When I have used paper straws, I find that my saliva moistens the end of the straw really quickly and this makes it really difficult to draw liquid," he said.

"Metal straws can be dangerous for some people when drinking hot drinks and may in fact be damaging to a person's mouth and/or teeth if they have spasm activity going on."

Mr Murray and Mr Buchanan both agree the any replacement would need to have the ability to bend, like a reusable plastic straw.

Whatever happens though, Mr Murray said any forward action should have input from the community that uses the straws.

"A plastic straw ban could actually make their life more difficult or even stop them going out for a drink (especially if people judged them for bringing their own plastic straw)," he said.

"The key message is about understanding that some people have different needs and to think about those people when proposing or making changes."