In increasingly more coastal cities, the sight of restaurant patrons sipping drinks through plastic straws is becoming a memory as the movement to ban single-use plastic utensils gains traction.
Where places like Malibu, Seattle and Miami Beach have gone, Britain will soon follow. And where Britain goes, commonwealth nations like Canada are being urged to go too.
Such was a major topic of discussion between Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Theresa May when the two met on April 18 to talk about their shared priorities as part of the Commonwealth leaders’ summit in London.
The subject of ocean health resurfaced again in a speech by Queen Elizabeth II at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on April 19.
“The Commonwealth Canopy has emphasised our interdependence,” the Queen said. “While the Commonwealth Blue Charter promises to do the same in protecting our shared ocean resources.
In an effort to curb the use of avoidable plastic waste that inevitably ends up swirling around the world’s oceans and washing up along its coastlines, the British government has pledged to ban the use of plastic drinking straws, plastic-stemmed cotton swabs and plastic drink stirrers.
The ban is part of a “national plan of action” that aims to eradicate avoidable plastic waste by 2042 in England, where an estimated 8.5 billion straws are disposed of each year. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged Canada’s support for the international declaration, he stopped short of committing to an outright ban on plastic straws in Canada.
Elsewhere, where plastic straw bans are already in effect, some restaurants now offer paper straws. And organizations like StrawFree — which encourages restaurants and individuals to quit the plastic straw — sell bamboo alternatives.
But for some people, like Miriam Spies, the common polypropylene straw is more than a convenience plastic. Spies lives with Cerebral Palsy. Because it limits her movement and muscle coordination, she relies on a straw to drink every day.
She agrees that gratuitous use of disposable plastics is harmful to ocean life, but she says an outright ban on the straws would be detrimental to herself and others who rely on them.
“I have Cerebral Palsy and I need straws to drink everything, every day,” she said. “I do my best to reuse straws as much as I can.”
According to the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy, over 60,000 Canadians live with CP. For many of them, a straw is an affordable, simple, effective drinking aid. Spies said she’s tried straws made from alternative materials, but she’s found plastic straws suit her needs best.
“Paper straws just dissolve in my mouth, so they aren’t effective,” she said. “And metal straws hurt my mouth.”
Spies said her issue with a ban on plastic straws goes beyond how it would affect her daily life.
A ban, she said, shouldn’t be necessary to persuade people give up their straws. And while she supports the movement to limit the use of plastic straws and other generally avoidable plastics, she sees it as a token gesture on its own.
“I think if you don’t need straws, don’t use them, but don’t make that your one and only action towards your care of the environment,” she said.
“We need to think bigger than straws. We need to think about how we use and transport oil. There’s other ways to advocate for the environment.”
Whether or not banning straws is the key to cleaning the world’s oceans, many people have joined the debate on all sides, arguing online for and against a ban.
— AmorForTheOcean (@amorfortheocean) April 19, 2018
"We need diversity in decision making" – @TheGoodLife_Co
Thanks for this insightful response to our article about the potential #PlasticStraw ban. We totally agree! #EthicalHourhttps://t.co/Y47dCbtptM pic.twitter.com/2BDT82bZwT
— #EthicalHour® (@EthicalHour) February 24, 2018
— Endigit-Us (@JustinGee69) November 26, 2016
Well, my @Tesco isn't listing flexible #plasticstraws anymore, so I'll be shopping elsewhere. They still have balloons, plastic cups and party poppers but, apparently I'm a bad person for being #disabled and actually needing flexistraws. #Disability
— Bubblejet (@Bubblejet) March 4, 2018
Next: Banning colostomy bags and replace them with burlap.
— Michael Kraft (@RedakteurImOff) March 4, 2018
‘Entourage’ actor Adrian Grenier has focused his straw ire at Starbucks, telling the café chain to “stop sucking.”
Help me ask @Starbucks to #StopSucking! Big business with its reach, wealth & influence needs to make hard commitments to keeping plastic out of our ocean. I’m asking #Starbucks at their shareholders mtg to phase-out plastic straws & recommit to their failed sustainability goals. pic.twitter.com/tmRFvykJu4
— Adrian Grenier (@adriangrenier) March 21, 2018
What is your take on the potential ban of straws in Canada and abroad? Vote in the poll above or comment below.