Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible : The Salt As cities and companies — including Starbucks — move to oust straws in a bid to reduce pollution, people with disabilities say they're losing access to a necessary, lifesaving tool.
NPR logo

Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/627773979/629362073" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible

Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/627773979/629362073" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NOEL KING, HOST:

Earlier this month, Seattle enforced a ban on plastic straws at businesses that sell food and drinks. It joins big corporations like Starbucks that have decided to get rid of plastic straws. The goal is to reduce pollution in the oceans. But there is an unintended consequence. For a lot of people with disabilities, straws are a basic necessity. NPR's Maria Godoy has the story.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Back in 2015, a video went viral. It was shot by a marine biologist from Texas A&M University. It showed researchers trying to remove a plastic straw stuck up a sea turtle's nose.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I don't want to pull if it's, like, attached to her brainstem.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah, that's what - exactly what I think. So it's a freaking straw up her freaking nostril.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's plastic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: How could that have possibly got lodged so firmly in the nostril?

GODOY: That video helped raise awareness about all the plastics harming marine life. And plastic straws became a prime target for elimination because, well, many of us don't really need them. So companies have started pledging to take them away, and some U.S. cities have already banned them like Malibu and Miami Beach. But for some people with disabilities, straws are necessary. Shaun Bickley is a disability rights advocate in Seattle. He says the invention of plastic straws in the mid-20th century dramatically improved the quality of life for some people like those with poor control of muscles used to swallow. In some cases, Bickley says...

SHAUN BICKLEY: They aspirate liquid in the lungs, develop pneumonia and die.

GODOY: There are reusable straws options out there, but Bickley and others say they don't work for everyone.

BICKLEY: Metal straws are dangerous to people who bite down. They conduct heat and create burns.

GODOY: Paper straws also have problems.

BICKLEY: People who don't have muscular control will bite through paper straws, and that presents a choking hazard. Even biodegradable plastic isn't as flexible as real plastic.

GODOY: Bickley and other disability rights activists say that bans on plastic straws should offer exemptions for people with medical conditions so restaurants would have plastic straws on hand for those who need them. In fact, Seattle wrote this kind of waiver into its ban on plastic straws which went into effect this month. But Bickley says some of the city's restaurants don't seem to be aware of the exemption.

BICKLEY: I called a bunch of restaurants or dropped in, and I asked them if they had plastic straws for allergies or accommodation.

GODOY: He says they all told him no. Maria Godoy, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEV'S "NEW LAND DISCOVERY")

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.