Straws Save Lives Like Mine – Don’t Ban Them!

In fact, in a world without straws, I’m not entirely sure if I’d even be alive
Riccardo Livorni / EyeEm via Getty Images

We’ve heard lots over the past few days about what damage “throwaway plastics” are doing to our environment and delicate ecosystem.

Already, disabled people have been speaking out, expressing how much of this plastic is making our lives accessible, with no viable alternative available.

Now, I’m the first to admit that, as a society, we go through far too many straws. The way in which they are made is damaging, and they’re not often recycled. The simple fact is, the average person does not need a straw in their coca-cola.

I do.

In fact, in a world without straws, I’m not entirely sure if I’d even be alive. I use them to eat, and I use them to drink. Even as things are, I can go a whole day with less than half a litre of fluid drank – that’s only a quarter of the recommended intake!

I live with a rare muscle wasting condition which renders me unable to scratch my nose without help. I definitely cannot lift a glass of water, a cup of tea, or a bottle of juice to my mouth and drink normally. Even if I could, I’d likely choke, causing the drink to get into my lungs and causing an aspiration pneumonia. I even use straws if I have a bad cough, blowing bubbles into liquid to give my lungs the workout and strength they need.

But the very bottom line is this – straws allow me to drink the fluid I need, and reduces my dehydration drastically. I have had doctors give me a stern telling off for not drinking enough because I haven’t been able to find the extra long straws I usually use.

Now, I know this isn’t the best for the environment. I’m lucky that I’m in the position to spend over £100 on a specifically designed mug with a reusable 36 inch straw to cut down on my throwaway plastic. I often wash out my single use straws to use them three out four times.

I’m doing my best, but I’m in a place of great privilege where this is concerned. Take away straws, and many won’t be able to drink the fluids they have access to!

As a Trailblazers Campaigns Officer, I have asked our 600 strong group of young disabled people their views. All agree on one thing – no straw, no drink! As Libby Smalley told me:

“I’m not allowed to have a drink without a straw, and not many places have straws now. So if we go out I’m always worried I’m not going to be able to join in and have a drink. I feel I shouldn’t have to take my own straws with me as I have just as much right as everyone else to go somewhere and them cater for me. I’ve tried others, sadly paper straws are no good nor are hard plastic straws. I can not live without straws! It would take my independence away from me and would mean I would have to go without drinks.”

I do not believe we are in a place where an outright ban is going to work. Some use metal straws, others wash their reusable ones. Paper straws, as good as they sound, still would cause issues for our forests – and thereby cause issues with carbon dioxide levels in our environment anyway.

At the end of the day, this is an issue where people at large are taking straws in their cocktails, bar drinks, and restaurant drinks when they could lift the glass to their mouth.

My message to all supporters of the plastic ban is this – do not make disabled people suffer for the misuse of plastic by those who do not need it.

Straws are far from the only accessible ‘throwaway plastic’ product disabled people use. But they are honestly the single most important. People use them to eat and drink.

I believe we can use better plastics, develop better ways to recycle them and make straws that will last for more than one use. But in the meantime, this Government and the media have a responsibility to protect people like me from great danger.

Create reimbursement or incentives for buying long term products like my mug, and make more funding available for mobile arm supports. But most importantly, keep straws available for disabled people only. Our lives depend on it.

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