Seeing Both Sides of the Plastic Straw Controversy

Leah Leilani avatar

by Leah Leilani |

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A few years ago, if you had asked me what it means to be eco-friendly, I would have given you the average answer: “Turning off your lights when you’re not using them and conserving water when possible. Being eco-friendly also includes recycling things made of plastic, glass, and aluminum.”

Fast-forward a couple of years later, and I now know that almost everything we do every day affects our environment. The things we order in the mail are usually wrapped in plastic. The lettuce from the salad I ate last night was genetically modified. It took hundreds of gallons of water to grow the cotton to make the T-shirt I’m wearing. These days, it is virtually impossible to live without impacting our planet. I’ve come to realize that an eco-friendly life is even harder to achieve when I’m disabled.

Southern California, where I am, is considered the health nut capital of the country. It’s an understatement to say that we’d be happy to have avocados as part of our state flag. Remove the bear and replace it with an avocado! Recently, there has been much talk about a plastic straw prohibition. A few cities have already restricted businesses from providing straws unless a customer requests one. A lot of controversy surrounds the subject.

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Plastic is a detriment to our planet. Why? Well, there are many reasons. Most plastic does not biodegrade. It takes hundreds of years for a single plastic bottle to decompose. Imagine, in 450 years, that bottle will still exist on this earth. Materials like glass can be melted down and repurposed again and again. So can plastic, but not without spewing toxins into our air. Pollution in the air damages many aspects of our ecosystems including the animals that inhabit them. Every day, animals die from consumption of plastic or entanglement in it, unable to decipher whether or not this foreign material is food. Day after day, more videos appear of creatures in need of medical attention.
The first priority for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses is health. Getting through the day without medical difficulties interrupting our lives is a success. It’s hard to be plastic-free when most of our medical equipment is made of exactly that — plastic. We don’t have the lifestyles that give us the opportunity to be very eco-conscious.
Straws are, believe it or not, an item that helps people in the disabled and chronic illness communities a lot in our everyday lives. Many of us are unable to lift drinks to our mouths because they’re heavy and require the use of our deteriorating muscles. “But what about stainless steel straws?” Well, these types of straws can be hazardous. Choking is a big concern as well as the fact that the steel can erode enamel.
As someone who cares very much about the environment, the guilt that arises after throwing away a plastic wrapping is familiar to me. My search history on YouTube consists mostly of zero-waste videos and research for vegan beauty products. For a little while, I even made my own beauty products from scratch to lessen my waste production.
As someone who’s in a wheelchair, I can also see the point of view from the disabled people’s side in this controversy. I use plastic straws frequently. Yet, my family and I have been able to find ways of being kind to our planet. We recycled all of our Gatorade bottles and Coke cans. My mom and I even bring reusable cups when we make an occasional stop at Starbucks.
The thing to remember is that this controversy is not black and white. We don’t have to quit our jobs to be zero waste enthusiasts and neither should we litter on the sides of roads. I think the detail that everyone is missing is that we can all do small things to help the planet.
What are your thoughts on this prohibition? Please share in the comments.


Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.


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