Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
SPOTLIGHT: Banning plastic straws is the latest trend.
BIG PICTURE: Here in Canada, the city of Vancouver has outlawed disposable drinking straws as of June 2019. The European Union is talking about doing the same. Greenpeace thinks they should be curtailed in Australia.
As I’ve previously explained, these measures have no hope of cleaning up the ocean since the vast majority of trash polluting it comes from impoverished countries in Asia and Africa with no waste management systems. Ten-year-olds may believe they’re saving turtles and seabirds by banning straws, but that’s wishful thinking. Nothing will seriously change until the garbage disposal problems of the third world are addressed.
If litter is a concern along our coastlines, let’s do a better job of addressing littering. But let us not insult each other’s intelligence by pretending that banning straws will significantly reduce the total trash ending up in landfills. Straws are small and weigh nothing. As a percentage of the overall refuse we produce each year, they’re trivial. Less than a rounding error.
The problem with these kinds of environmental crusades is that the crusaders believe they’re on the side of the angels. It doesn’t occur to them that their campaign might have unintended consequences – that real people might get hurt.
Vancouver was recently described as “the most ‘Asian’ city outside Asia.” Its ban will adversely affect the numerous small businesses who sell wildly popular Asian bubble tea, as well as thick milkshakes.
“Change like this can be costly,”says the president of a Restaurant and Food Services Association. Why increase costs for no discernible benefit? Why interfere with private businesses (be they successful or marginal) minus a compelling reason?
Then there are the sick and the disabled. Near the end of her long battle with breast cancer, the only way my mother could manage to drink was through a straw. People with a range of disabilities also need them. One woman who is incapable of holding a cup told a newspaper that no straws were available in three establishments she visited recently, and that the staff were decidedly non-apologetic. From her perspective, her already difficult life is being made more so:
We’re really kind of viliyfing [sic] people who need straws or forgetting about them completely – let’s be honest – in encouraging shaming people who are asking for them.
Another woman, confined to a wheelchair, suffers from a disease that affects her ability to swallow. The same newspaper article reads:
“Are straws then going to be something you buy at a medical supply store? And as soon as you do that they become more expensive and they become less accessible,” says [Vancouver’s Gabrielle] Peters, on a fixed income of disability benefits she estimates at $1,100 per month. “You’re just adding that cost to me.”
TOP TAKEAWAY: Banning plastic straws in affluent countries has no realistic chance of improving the state of the ocean. But these bans are making life worse for small business people, sick people, and the disabled.
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