Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know the war on waste is in full swing, and plastic is the arch-enemy.
There’s no denying the statistics: Australia is one of the most wasteful countries in the developed world. In fact, the average Australian produces 1.5 tonnes of waste each year, contributed to by 85% of soft plastics that aren’t recycled, and a whopping 10 million plastic straws a day.
In response to the crisis, supermarkets, cafes, bars and restaurants are banning the use of single-use plastic strawsand bags across the country at a rapid rate. A positive step forward in slowing our impact no doubt, but not without its difficulties.
Within the first fortnight of the move we saw supermarket giants offering free reusable plastic bag alternatives after backlash from shoppers who consistently forgot to bring their own in, and this week the additional unloading service for the elderly who can’t lift these now heavily packed reusable bags.
Straws on the other hand are being banned without alternatives, seen more as an unnecessary accessory than a necessity. But in our rush to reduce the harm caused by straws, we must not forget those who use them out of necessity, not convenience: people with disabilities.
Like myself, millions of people with disabilities require straws to drink for reasons including muscle weakness or paralysis, swallowing problems or involuntary movements. Some of my favourite cafes are no longer offering straws, going ‘cold-turkey’ and leaving me no choice but to try elsewhere to hydrate or bring my own straw.
Our war on waste and having a disability needn’t be mutually exclusive. Just like the lessons learned from the ban on plastic bags, the hospitality industry needs to take an all-inclusive approach to the ban on plastic straws by providing alternatives for those who need them.
Some examples might include:
• Paper (not ideal though for hot drinks)
• Long pasta tubes (easily broken)
• Biodegradable plastic options
• Keeping plastic straws behind the counter for those who request them, limiting the amount you use (a great initiative currently being run by The Last Straw).
Change takes time. We will all eventually start remembering our reusable bags for planned trips to the supermarket, and silicone or reusable plastic straws when going to a restaurant. But unlike a quick dash into the supermarket for a couple of items you can carry out in your hands (or lap if in a wheelchair), straws for people with a disability are a necessity and this is now becoming the difference between an inclusive and exclusive venue.
Customers respond to choice and flexibility, so why not provide them with just that? If I can have the choice of full cream, skim, almond, soy or rice milk at your café, surely I can be provided with a choice in straws?