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Disability community speaks out against Seattle’s plastic straw ban

People with disabilities say there aren’t equally accessible alternatives for them.


Alex Dalbey


Posted on Jul 3, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 12:01 pm CDT

Seattle is the latest city to enact a plastic straw ban, a law that many in the disability community say takes away a necessary tool for them.

On Sunday, the plastic straw ban went into full effect in Seattle as a part of an ordinance started in 2008 to reduce waste. It began with banning styrofoam and non-recyclable food service items and now includes service ware and straws, with a $250 fine for those who don’t comply.

While not banning single-use products may seem like a simple solution to reducing waste, the disability community is speaking out against this law and reminding abled people that what is simple for them isn’t simple for everyone. Many disabled people need straws in order to drink and take their medications. 

While there are exemptions for “manufacturers of approved compostable utensils and straws,” according to the Seattle Public Utilities, restaurants are not required to carry these alternatives, making it likely that many will just stop carrying straws entirely. In addition, those alternatives are often costly, and many do not meet the needs of people with disabilities. Most glaringly, some people with disabilities do not have the physical capacity to clean reusable straws.

Some are saying straws are not actually a large contributor to the plastic waste problem and believe that straw bans are motivated by a viral video from several years ago of a turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. They say the disability community is being guilted for needing straws to drink and blamed for pollution, rather than the blame being laid at the feet of larger polluters like corporations.

Seattle isn’t the only place to ban plastic straws; Miami Beach, Florida, and Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, both have bans already in place, and the U.K. has proposed a ban on all single-use plastics.

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*First Published: Jul 3, 2018, 10:04 am CDT