Bans on single-use plastic have taken over the world this year.
It all began when the United Kingdom passed legislation to enact the first such nationwide ban. States, provinces, and municipalities quickly followed suit with their own laws.
The number one target: plastic straws. Single-use straws are non-recylcable and can be a choking hazard for the unsuspecting sea creature. Many a photo has gone viral showing a turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril or a whale with undigestible plastic litter in its stomach.
Indeed, at a glance, the ban seems like a good idea. Huge beverage companies like Starbucks have already announced plans to eliminate plastic straws so why not make the ban official citywide? Such a step would swiftly bring an end to an unquantifiably huge amount of plastic waste.
Such praise, however, was premature. What many have failed to realize is that there is an entire section of the population that relies on single-use straws to consume everything from coffee to basic nutrients.
Some people with disabilities need plastic straws. Single-use straws are a simple and sanitary way for some people to enjoy their favourite drinks and ingest their meals. Without straws, it can be much more difficult.
Thus, plastic straws not only make eateries, cafés, and bars more accessible, but also ensure those with certain disabilities can safely consume food everywhere.
So a citywide plastic straw ban may not be the answer. Instead, it should become custom for consumers to reject straws unless they need them. Restaurants and cafés should also make staws less freely available. Though straws should still be visible so that patrons do not have to disclose their disabilities in order to obtain one.
An easy solution, of course, is the introduction of paper straws as are now common in the UK. But such a measure needs to be specified in legislation. A simple straw ban could encourage companies to just introduce strawless lids, as Starbucks has done.
It's a difficult balance between social and environmental responsibility. But as it stands, it's up to people with means to simply do without a straw in their iced coffees to help reduce overall urban plastic waste.