Why The Plastic Straw Ban Angers Me as a Special Needs Mom

Why The Plastic Straw Ban Angers Me as a Special Needs Mom July 20, 2018

Recently I ran across an article on NPR about super trendy “Plastic Straw Ban.”

If you aren’t familiar with the ban, it all centers around a video that is on YouTube.

The video made by a marine biologist, Christine Figgener, was uploaded in 2015.

The video has been viewed more than 31 million times, and it has prompted a tidal wave of companies and cities banning the use of plastic straws.

I had no idea there were bans, and that companies were trying to make it more difficult to use plastic straws because my family doesn’t get out much.

Most of our life is spent shuffling my son from one doctor appointment to the next.

When we travel, we always have to bring a specific cup and specific straws for him to drink.

My son can’t drink from a cup without a straw.

He’s one of many individuals with disabilities that either can’t hold a cup or don’t have the oral motor coordination to drink without a straw. There are other reasons people need straws to drink, but these are the most common.

We were elated when he mastered the use of straw at age three.

Learning to drink by straw was a significant milestone he hit because we were finally able to toss out the sippy cups.

He was able to have more independence with drinking, and he was able to use less energy by using the straw.

Since then he’s never been able to drink from an open cup. However, he is a pro at using straws.

We’ve tried numerous types of straws that are paper, metal, silicone, and plastic.

Metal straws are stiff, and they change temperatures depending on what you are drinking. Due to my son’s senstivity to temperature, and his coordination issues we learned early on metal straws were not practical.

Then I purchased a cup with a reuseable silicone straw. I thought it would be a more eco-friendly option than disposable plastic straws.

Unfortunately, he was unable to properly grip the straw with his mouth and tongue. He lacked the coordination and strength to use the straw, and the cup became mine.

Eventually we found a system that worked for him.

The cups we use are plastic, have a lid, and a hole for a straw.

We have to buy the same multi-color straws from Walmart or he will pitch a fit. He has specific preferences in what he likes in a straw. A nuance that I find kind of endearing.

This works for our family, and we carry them with us where ever we go.

Instead, now it’s become harder for us to find straws when we go out.

My son doesn’t eat by mouth.

However, he still loves to go out to eat.

He loves to watch others enjoy food, and likes to see other children out with their families. He’s a friendly kid and enjoys talking with individuals that sit near us.

While my husband and I eat our dinners, he quietly sits with his Ipad and sips on his juice with his straw.

When I read that more and more places are starting to ban plastic straws, I began to get concerned for people like my son.

Going out and ordering drinks with straws will become more challenging the wider these bans stretch.

Then I started to get worried that Walmart might stop selling the brand of straws we buy. In a moment of panic I thought about ordering over 100 boxes of straws to ensure we didn’t run out.

Straws may be a convenience for many of us, but there are millions of people in the world that rely on straws for drinking.

While I don’t negate the tragedy of a sea turtle having a straw up his nose, I also can’t help but get angry at the world for the knee-jerk reaction we have to banning items without proper thought of why these items exist.

As a mother, it made me realize that the masses are more concerned about sea animals than the inclusion of people with disabilities.

Sure, straws when not properly disposed of are a hazard.

There is far too much litter floating in our oceans.

I am not disputing any of that information.

However, how about instead of banning straws all together we become more responsible users of straws.

If you don’t need to use a straw, don’t take a straw.

When you use a straw, throw it away when you are done.

Don’t dump your empty cups and straws on the ground.

We can all reduce our use of straws if we can drink without one. Drink out of the cup directly instead of grabbing for a straw.

However, for the people that don’t have the luxury, banning straws outright reminds them they are invisible.

When you have a disability or raise a child with a disability, you learn pretty quickly how invisible you are to the world.

When we as a society value the safety of a turtle over the inclusion of people with disabilities, we have our priorities wrong.

What can we do?

  1.  We stop banning plastic straws.
  2. We need to become more responsible consumers and users of straws

Why is this Important?


My son and millions like him depend on straws for drinking.

People with disabilities live in a world world that isn’t accessible, and taking away straws is cruel.

My heart is breaking thinking about how many people are hurt by plastic straw bans.

My only wish is that more people understood how these bans make life less accessible for people with disabilities.

Let’s rethink banning straws.

Consider the millions that need straws to drink.

Remember that while sea animals are valuable to our eco-system, we can make responsible choices in using straws.

Banning straws is not necessary.



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  • QuestionMark666

    I understand Starbucks will be going to a paper straw

  • Willards69

    From what I saw, Starbucks is going to a different lid with the straw incorporated in the lid. Still, single use plastic.

  • Willards69

    I empathize with your issue with straws but I disagree with your stance. The world is trying to change, but you would like a pass. The world is evolving hopefully. Single use plastics are on the cusp of being banned at least in CA.
    I live with my grandkids (2 and 5) and they have single use straws. That infuriates me, but I have little control over how my son and his wife buy things and waste things. I can only have impact in what I do and set an example. Sooooooo, what I do is retrieve the straws and clean them and reuse them by putting them back in with the other flexible straws. No one is the wiser.
    I also like the other recycling ideas that I see. Styrofoam surfboards being replaced by a biodegradable material (as are many other products).
    A friend of mind is working on an insect that dogest plastic. Stanford University is using a different bug. My friend has figured out a way to extend the larvae stage which is the point when the bug digest the plastic, particularly surfboard styrofoam.

  • WallofSleep

    “Then I purchased a cup with a reuseable silicone straw. I thought it would be a more eco-friendly option than disposable plastic straws. Unfortunately, he was unable to properly grip the straw with his mouth and tongue.”

    I wonder if they made the mouth-end of the straw textured in some way if that would make it easier to grip. This sounds like a niche that has not been adequately filled, and one that an inventor/investor could capitalize on.

    “We can all reduce our use of straws if we can drink without one.”

    I haven’t used one in decades, mostly because I drink too fast when using one. I don’t know why that is, but I don’t need ’em, don’t use ’em, and hand them back to the server if given one at a restaurant.

    “… we can make responsible choices in using straws.”

    Unfortunately, “we” can’t. That’s why laws have been passed and bans are put in place for any number of things. We always have been, and always will be, burdened with an irresponsible, careless minority that ruins things for everyone else.

  • Morgan Lefaye

    Thank you for teaching me that the ability to drink independently is a privilege, as is the ability to eat. Also, can your son drink using those hard plastic bendy straws that are attached to cups as a novelty?

  • Jim Jones

    > it has prompted a title wave

    Or a tidal wave.

    > My son can’t drink from a cup without a straw.

    Then he should use one.

    > Banning [plastic] straws is not necessary.

    Yes, it is. Paper straws are fine, and easy to compost. Those who need plastic should buy them and use them as carefully as possible.

    Some estimates are that about 500 million straws are used in the US every day. That’s too much plastic waste.

  • Rubicon

    Hey Katie, welcome to progressive thought – your child’s life is less important than Jim’s guilt over turtles.

  • Jim Jones

    Hey Katie, welcome to reactionary idiocy and arrogance.

    Your child’s life is worth nothing to them unless they can use it to make some stupid point to satisfy their own greed or push away their many, many fears.

    No one objects to your buying plastic straws for a medical need. However the world doesn’t need the US trashing 500 million a day for no good reason.

    And then there’s all the rest of the trash Starbucks creates daily.

  • David Barber

    Outrageous response.

  • Great point about reusing the single use straw! This is what we do in our home. My son often uses the same single use straw multiple times 🙂 We are big recyclers, and try to be conservative in our choices. This has been a difficult one to work around.

  • Love your idea about the niche straw! Hadn’t considered that. What he needs is a positionable straw, that is stiff but flexible. I use the silicone straw daily – and it’s too soft for him to grab. If the straws could be made harder and positionable – it would be useful!

  • I appreciate your passion! And thank you for you for pointing out my typo – I’ll correct it! Paper straws are a GREAT option, but they are not positionable at this time. Due to the material they are also a choking hazard as they can dissolve. Individuals with disabilities can choke on the material. I would absolutely be open to a solution for our straw use, but right now we have tried all options. We do reuse our straws and wash them. So he does not use them “single use”. We also recycle everything we can.

  • I don’t disagree with you. however not having plastic straws available for those that need it is the problem

  • Terry Firma

    There is no reason straws can’t be reused. I have dozens of them in a kitchen drawer. We wash them after use. Some are probably years old.

    So there’s no need to get “angry,” or to try to turn back the straw bans that are a blessing to the environment, or even to buy a hundred boxes of your son’s favorite straws.

    Buy what he likes, then REUSE them over and over.

    You’re welcome.

    By the way, what’s a “title wave”? 🙂

  • We do reuse them. 🙂 I have updated my typo. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Jim Jones

    I buy them from Dollar Tree. Mine have Disney characters on them (not my choice).

    I use them to program a mechanical digital computer. Two packets will last me a lifetime.

  • Terry Firma

    Good. Then what’s the point of getting angry about the straw ban? Or the point of your post? How do bans on single-use plastic band intolerably affect you?

  • The ban doesn’t not consider the needs of individuals with disabilities. Current alternatives fall short in affordability and function. We must consider the needs of all humans before making wide sweeping choices that impact many.

  • Rubicon

    It’s outrageous to put the well-being of a special needs child beneath an overhyped panic?

  • Rubicon

    The 500m a day number has been debunked repeatedly. Google is your friend…

  • He has difficulty with them – but if we cut them to the proper size he will try. He’s pretty specific in what he likes and doesn’t like. He seems to prefer the bendy plastic straws over everything else. We even have to cut them down to size for him to use them.

  • Morgan Lefaye
  • Jim Jones

    I found it hard to believe but that was Google’s answer.

    Still, even 50 million a day is a hell of a lot of waste. And despite their claims, all (or almost all) of the coffee shops are not recycling their cups either but are dumping them. It just doesn’t seem too hard to make a recyclable cup even if the customer has to use 3 bins – cup, wrap and lid.

  • Jim Jones

    I don’t see why the restaurants can’t have them available for special cases.

    Mind you,reading here you will realize that many people feel they are ‘special’ enough to demand plastic.

  • That would great if they had them for individuals like my son. For many, a straw is no different than a restaurant providing a cup to drink or utensils to eat

  • Jim Jones

    What’s your best suggestion? We do want people to not use straws or to use compostable ones to the greatest extent possible.

  • We need a straw that is positionable, flexible, doesn’t react to heat/cold, won’t dissolve and pose a choking hazard, isn’t too soft that it would be hard to grip. Suggestions like Bamboo or Metal – don’t work they are too stiff. The best option I have seen thus far are plant-based Flex-straws but they are really expensive. 50 straws for $11 on Amazon.

    What I wish people would focus on is reducing their consumption of plastic bottled water or disposable plastic cups. Those account for far more waste than the straws. We can be mindful of our use, without taking resources away from people that already struggle to do very basic things.

  • Kyle Holland

    This blows my mind. We should continue to perpetrate an environmental disaster because it’d be more convenient?

    Well, we’re all going to burn anyway. Perhaps it doesn’t make that much difference.

  • How about we spend our time and energy not using plastic bottled water? That would make a much bigger dent in the plastic issues. This isn’t about convenience for people with disabilities, this is about them having access to tools that prove to work for them. Until affordable and viable options are developed, plastic straws work for many of them.

  • Starbucks should just ditch their plastic cups. It would make a way bigger impact

  • Mrs Arcanum

    Biodegradable plastic straws are available. Switch to these. If your son enjoys doing all the things he can, perhaps he will be thoughtful enough to accept a swap if he knows the damage plastic is doing to our oceans.
    Shame on you, for not exploring more about what your son, may or may not understand or be able to cope with. Just lazy whining about the impact on you.

  • I’m sorry you feel I have been lazy. Anyone that knows me, would tell you I am the complete opposite. I am certainly not whining. We have explored all options available. I did find a pack of biodegradeable straws on Amazon that we will try – they are very expensive by comparison.

    My point in this article is that consumers can find other ways to be resourceful and kind to environment without taking away resources that people with disabilities rely on to meet basic human needs.

    It’s easy for you to sit and judge our situation without knowing us.

    I would suggest to all people they are more responsible in their use of plastic.

    Don’t buy Bottled water.
    Don’t use single use plastic cups
    Use reuseable bags for shopping
    Recycle all of your plastic items

    Our family implements all of these strategies in our home.

  • Rubicon

    I find I don’t belive a lot of my friends :). Nevertheless, I think there’s little enough urgency that we don’t need to be callous about people in need.

  • Jim Jones

    Either we continue as we are or we don’t do that.

  • this cup was tried and was a no-go for the kid

  • Morgan Lefaye

    I’m so sorry!

  • It is ok! We are use to having some things work and other things not. We have our stash of “plastic straws” and just because I care – I’m washing them out and he is reusing them until they fall apart.

  • Mrs Arcanum

    It really does not matter what you do not use, its not a binary choice. All the things we, as a human race use are the problem. Minimising the impact on the environment and the oceans is essential. Your son may well be more amenable to change if you ask him. It is your assumption that he will accept nothing else that is the problem. Ask him, involve him in the choice, show him how the straws he uses are causing problems. Just because someone has physical or mental limitations does not mean they cannot make positive choices about themselves and the consequences of those choices if pitched at a level they can understand.

  • Mrs Arcanum

    Think a lot of the takeaway cups in use are not recyclable. That is the problem.

  • I wrote a follow up – I am not against helping the environment. I do think you have me all wrong. And I also think you are assuming so much in what I do or don’t do to help him understand as a parent

  • Jim Jones

    Indeed. A TV news group here studied most chains by checking garbage and found almost zero recycling because it would cost more.

  • Terry Firma

    Wash your damn straws and reuse them. You say you’ve done this, so that’s solved your problem then. You cling to your (non-)problem instead of embracing the obvious solution. Turn down the anger, it’s unseemly and unnecessary. This whole post was a waste of everyone’s time.

  • I think you have missed the point of the article. We can not make sweeping decisions about products without considering the impact on individuals that need them.

  • Kyle Holland

    I don’t know that it should be an “either/ or” proposition. Ban them both, ban all single-use plastics.

    Understand that I’m an oldster. When I was a child I knew no such thing as a plastic straw– waxed paper straws were our only option. We lived.

  • David Barber

    “Hey Katie, welcome to progressive thought – your child’s life is less important than Jim’s guilt over turtles.” This is not the point at all, and I’m not an SJW?Progressive.
    As was pointed out by another person, your comment made a statement that someone cared less about the child in question than a turtle, which is disingenuous at best. That was an outrageous assertion; already answered, so no need to comment further.