Environmentalism’s Last Straw

Why Banning Straws Won’t Solve Anything

Following Starbucks’ ban of straws, many governments and companies have enacted their own bans. While banning straws is a step forward in saving our oceans, it is not enough to impact the world fast enough to prevent climate change, especially when examining what there is to lose when banning plastic straws.

The movement to ban plastic straws is certainly not new,with many environmental interest groups lobbying for legislation. In the past few months, banning straws has gained traction but not in the way many have expected. Starbucks and Walt Disney Company have taken action in support of it the movement and announced plans to ban single-use plastic straws.

Both announcements aired in July, with the Walt Disney Company announcing the elimination of single-use plastic straws and stirrers in all its locations by mid-2019 as part of its “journey of environmental stewardship.” In addition to the straws, Disney also plans to reduce other plastic products in its hotels and cruise ships as well as plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam cups. Starbucks announced it would transition to a new lid for cold drinks, debuted with the Nitro Cold Brew, that eventually will mean eliminating more than 1 billion plastic straws per year.

While the intent behind the action is appreciated, the problem is that the straw ban also restricts disabled people’s access to public places, forcing them to stay isolated in their own homes. Disabled people rely on plastic straws and denying access to them will do more harm than good. Using a reusable metal straw is a valid idea, however, the maintenance for a disabled person to continually use the metal straw is not worth adding more struggle in the mere activity of eating.

Of course, the intent behind the ban is still very much appreciated: people care about the environment, people want to help—that much is very obvious. But people generally don’t know how to do so in a productive way, choosing individualized, consumer-based solutions over larger structural change. The straw ban falls in line with environmentalist activism that works at the expense of people’s welfare—it’s not sustainable when it marginalizes another group of people and when it is simply based on individual actions of people.  

Many of the suggestions to curb global warming often falls on the individual. And yes, while major corporations have taken action, it is still based from a suggestion of changing lifestyles for individuals. Environmental groups are right to lobby for laws when these laws target the true machines that perpetuate global warming: corporations.

Simple solutions to reduce waste within a person’s life is commendable, however, to truly act and make visible change, this nation must realize this crisis is real and enforce strict rules to combat it. With only 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, corporations are the biggest sources of waste in the nation, using tons and tons of plastic, generating massive amounts pollution in the process of mass production, and using fossil fuels as a resource. Imposing strict new rules on corporations and pouring government resources into alternate forms of fuel are bigger actions to force climate change into submission.

Placing personal responsibility on conservation ignores the true source of the problem and allows for targeting the most vulnerable individuals on the planet. When people advocate personal responsibility, they’re never talking about billionaires and their private jets. They’re never talking about the wastefulness of mega companies, who pour

They’re creating straw bans that will make life more dangerous for people with disabilities. They’re shaming women for using disposable menstrual products. They’re criticizing the poor and destitute for using “wasteful” products because they’re all they can afford. They’re making vaguely eugenic statements about getting people in “third world countries” to stop breeding so much. 

They are never talking about what impact forcing these 100 companies to meet emission requirements would have on the environment in context of what impact banning straws will have on.