Daniel Gilbert uses plastic straws to drink his coffee in the morning. For much of his life, the 25-year-old has carried them with him everywhere. He’s had to, because all plastic straws aren’t the same.
Gilbert needs them to be the right length, and they have to be able to handle hot temperatures. And many restaurants don’t offer what he needs.
The Owensboro, Kentucky, resident was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes the muscles to progressively deteriorate. As his muscles weakened, it became harder for him to pick up something like a cup, so Gilbert began carrying straws when he reached his twenties.
One night, he left his straws at home while he was at a bar with his friends. Typically, he uses bendable ones to position the straw closer to his mouth. But all the bar had was plastic stirrers.
“I had to manage, but it took a lot of effort,” he said. “It was really exhausting.”
Gilbert and other people with disabilities fear that a growing effort to ban plastic straws will limit their accessibility at restaurants, on airplanes and at other service establishments.
Starbucks announced Monday that by 2020, it will phase out the use of all plastic straws in its cafes. This came a little more than a week after Seattle, the birthplace of the coffee giant, banned plastic straws and utensils from the city’s restaurants, bars and food trucks.
American Airlines said Tuesday that it too will eliminate straws from its in-flight beverage service starting in November, replacing them with stir sticks. The announcement follows a similar move by Alaska Airlines.
The bans are meant to be a proactive step in easing the burden that plastic waste has on our environment. But they also may make life more complicated for people in the disabled community who rely on these tools.