Plastic Straws vs other plastics

Thursday 12 July, 2018

I wrote a post just under a year ago saying that I was worried eco warriors would cause a blanket ban on straws, and so far at that point, there didn’t seem to be a good non-plastic alternative – not for me, and not for many disabled people. Hey, looks like I was right! And this has turned into an ongoing argument that has swept through social media. For everyone disabled person or carer saying why plastic straws are important, able bodied people will swan in and assume they know better, and will bestow their wisdom by making the same suggestions we’ve already point out won’t work, and shape the argument that we’re being stubburn. Disabled people could literally die without plastic straws, we have a right to be stubburn. This is a matter of life and death here, but it’s being reshaped as an inconvenience just because a straw to many people is a luxury.

Anyway, that’s not what i’m here to focus on today. A couple of years ago, whilst I was in Home Bargains, I suddenly became overwhelmed by the choice in shampoos and conditioners, and a member of staff shouted loudly from by the doorways (a good 10 feet away) to ask me if i was okay, because I was on my own, and at first I didn’t realise she was shouting at me. She saw me, sitting there by myself, looking at the variety available on the shelf, and made a show of me by shouting again to ask if someone was with me. For the record, I was fine, I was just looking whilst the person I was with was deciding between the toilet rolls, and she had no right to imply that I needed someone with me and that something was wrong if I didn’t.

It’s not the ableism that’s stuck with me since, it’s the fact that there are so many plastic bottles of shampoos and conditioners, and hand wash and body lotion and all matter of beauty products available on the shelf, in so many shops on the high street, in every town, in every city, all through the UK. How much plastic does that come to?

I was in Lidl this morning – They have a great deal on Wheetabix. 72 Biscuit bars for £3.99, when I was in Farmfoods the other day and they wanted £3.00 for 12! – and I spotted something. They now have a nut pick and mix area, which is exactly how it sounds. You can choose between a variety of nuts and put them in a bag provided. Nothing stops you from taking your own, but they provide a plastic bag like you get in the fruit aisle, and I have to wonder… could they not provide paper bags? I don’t know much about nuts, even though I quite like some of them, but they’re not very protected for freshness in the shop, so does a plastic bag really provide extra freshness that a paper bag wouldn’t once outside it?

Years ago my mum used to buy bars of soap such as Imperial Leather, Dove, Simple and Nivea, and they used to come in cardboard boxes. We then found places like poundland, and Home and Bargains, were selling liquid hand soap cheaper than the bars of soap and because of our tiny bathroom in our tiny house, it worked out better to have liquid soap nicely contained in a container than it did to have a bar of soap melting on the tiny ledge of the tiny sink. Now, because I’m aware of how much plastic I *need* that I can’t compromise on, I’m trying to cut down on things I can compromise on. Like the soap. But can I buy soap in cardboard boxes without the plastic wrapping? No. There’s nice soap caddies I would love to buy and use – unfortunately I still have to deal with a sink with no space for anything nice – but it’s got me thinking, where do you even buy liquid soap that doesn’t come in a 250ml plastic pump bottle? The re-usable caddy would be pointless. Shopping plastic free is difficult, it’s the infrastructure behind it, but it’s not life or death to replace the packaging soap come in, like it is for disabled people suffering through a straw ban.

Someone on twitter made a very decent point a couple of weeks ago. Disabled people need plastic straws to live, and in fact I’ve recently found out that they were invented for the purpose of disabled poeple to use, and disabled people simply wouldn’t be thriving as well today without them, but until someone invented the plastic credit and debit card, everyone was happy without them. They might have served a purpose originally, for security and fraud protection, but they are solely for convenience now. They get dropped, lost, forgotten, stolen, and cut up and put in the bin when they’re done with and replaced every 3 years even when they’re still in a condition to be used. In these days of mobile and internet banking, and paypal and direct transfers, we could easily mix the modern tech of today with the old tech of yesterday, with some innovative ideas to increase protection against fraud and theft, to eliminate credit and debit cards being used and thrown away.

Balloons are literally single use, they serve no real purpose and they end up in the ocean too. And how much plastic is put into our electronics? How much plastic is in the iPhone? Apple have a habit of making phones unusable to force people to upgrade to a newer model long before the tech has actually worn out, how many phones have ended up in landfills before their natural end?

It’s just infuriating me. Convenience for able bodied people is enshrined as “the way things are”,  but convenience for disabled people is too much for the rest of society, and actual life saving neccessities are shaped as conveniences when it comes to disabled poeple. Disabled campaigners are telling eco warriors that they will die without the simple plastic straw, and the response is not to be dramatic, or the fight isn’t against straws, it’s against the single use plastic, and then out come the same 5 suggestions again and again and again. I am tired of explaining that paper straws are no good, sillicone straws are no good, metal straws are no good, biodegradable plastic straws are no good, straw straws are no good. Yes I’ve heard some places do pasta straws, yes many disabled people don’t have carers which yes means they’re alone a large portion of the day. The worst are people patting themselves on the back whilst saying “we all need to make sacrifices”. Again, able bodied people who use them as a luxury is not equivalent to the “sacrifice” of dehydrating or aspirating through a lack of accessible options.

I only need to use straws intermittantly, but as the older I am getting, the more frequent those bouts are. But I am not fighting this for just my own benefit, I am fighting it for others and my friends who depend on them to live.

I will not be convinced that Strawgate is anything more than inflammatory self-congratulatory attempt to look good in the social climate, like a fad. Because until I look around shops and see some sort of dispensory service for shampoo and conditioner to be poured into non-plastic bottles, soaps back in cardboard boxes (or metal tins?), and a real cut down on plastic on the shelves on things that don’t really need plastic, right now it’s just coming across like Marie Antoinette telling the poor people they’re the cause of poverty by eating too much food.

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