This Can’t Be the Last Straw

On July 10, Mayor London Breed approved the ordinance to ban plastic straws with a revision that includes a prohibition on restaurants from offering napkins and plastic utensils with takeout or delivery orders. On July 1, 2019, the ban will go into effect for all businesses in San Francisco that provide plastic straws.

At first glance, banning plastic straws from all San Francisco food service establishments seems like a big first step in the right direction, but in actuality it is not helpful.

The Mercury News states only 49 percent of the debris found in the Bay is plastic, while another eight percent of the total debris is made up of single-use plastic. Straws generally are not producing a majority of the waste. Every bit counts. Should we really be focusing on straws when there are clearly more environmentally harmful items to focus on?

Ocean advocates, like Stop Sucking and The Ocean Conservancy, support the ban because it reduces some plastic waste in the Bay. While that’s true and it helps to decrease the amount of pollution in the Bay, it does not fully solve the issue. Given the state of our environment, we don’t have time to waste on small gestures like the straw ban. Advocates put their efforts towards bigger causes such as dirty bags and papers or to-go containers.

Now that plastic straws are banned, no one knows what alternatives retailers will use and what these alternatives will be made of. Plus, the replacements aren’t always more sustainable. Starbucks will turn to new “recyclable” plastic lids that are made from polypropylene, otherwise known as #5 plastic, a material that recyclers cannot find a place to store the material at or even recycle. John Hocevar, the ocean campaigns director for Greenpeace, argues that people “can’t solve the plastic pollution crisis by substituting one kind of unnecessary single-use plastic with another,” and he’s correct.

Disability advocates have spoken out in opposition to the straw ban because many people have conditions that need straws to drink liquids, to eat or take medications. Kim Sauder, a scholar of disability studies at York University, was the first to vocalize these concerns of other disability advocates.

Many alternatives have been brought up during the discussion of what establishments should replace their straws with when time comes to implement the ordinance, but according to S.E Smith, a disabled writer for Vox, these straw replacements might not be so helpful due to allergens and potential hazards. Alternatives like glass straws could also be especially harmful for disabled people, as glass straws may break in the mouths of people with facial tics. Able-bodied people cannot deny disabled people access to utensils that make it easier for them to be patrons at the many food and drink service establishments in San Francisco.

Plastic waste is an issue, but banning straws will not solve it. This ban will hurt our disabled population while also causing more harm than help. Environmental activists must take larger measures in order to solve the issue of waste pollution caused by plastic. If the people of San Francisco can work together to stop plastic straw use, they can also look towards the bigger offenders of plastic waste and compromise for those who rely on these straws.

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