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Image / Editorial

Disability, plastic straws and the planet

23rd Oct 2018

Plastic straws are a little bit magic. If you have a disabled child or care for someone with a disability, plastic straws are often an essential bit of kit. My 6-year-old is registered as blind (she has approximately 6% sight), and she has sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia. She CANNOT use a glass or cup. We’ve tried everything, but it stresses her out so much that straws are now our best option. She will also drink from a baby’s bottle but that’s very hard to encourage once your child goes into mainstream school. If we didn’t have straws, she literally wouldn’t drink anything between breakfast and bedtime. Not good.

It’s an uncomfortable truth for people who campaign for less plastic in the world, but it is our family’s reality. Plastic straws are just soft enough and just bendy enough to not hurt you if you don’t have great mouth control. With that bendy ‘hip’ bit, they’re easy to pose if you can’t lift a cup; they are quick to replace when used multiple times day-to-day; they’re just brilliant, essential equipment for some of us.

But plastic straws are also killing our ocean sea life, polluting our environment and -very scary – breaking down and entering the food chain so that we end up ingesting them. So what’s the answer?

For the past couple of years, we’ve been using compostable straws we buy online (not paper; you can’t chew them!). They’re about €5 for 250 straws. In the last few months I’ve introduced metal (good for travelling), bamboo (the best for at home use), and paper (good for parties, etc). And the thing is, compostable straws are exactly the same as normal plastic; you’d never know the difference.

Families with disability care about the environment too. In the last couple of years, there’s a trend towards ignoring a good solution because it’s not the perfect solution, and we use persons with disabilities as examples of why something can’t work. Take car-free days for example. Er, just make an exception for blue badges – it’s not rocket science, people.

If single-use plastic straws were withdrawn from the market, the availability of compostable ones would increase and the price would come down. We know this from the whole plastic bag debate. If you really want to help persons with disabilities you could put pressure on this government to move ahead with their review of the true cost of disability in daily life (it’s considerable), or encourage them to do what they promised and provide a rebate on waste charges for households with disability.

In the meantime, the Green Party is proposing a ban on single-use plastics, including straws. Our Waste Reduction Bill has been stalled time and again by the government, but it’s back before the Dail today, Tuesday, October 23rd . I’ll be supporting it, and so will my my straw-using 6-year-old, because she wants to save those turtles too!

Neasa Hourigan is the Green Party representative for Dublin Central. She is a sustainability consultant and a mum of two.

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