When Eco-friendly is Not Disability-friendly

light blue, lavender, and yellow plastic drinking straws stand at various angles
Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

What do you think about someone using disposable plastic straws or plastic shopping bags? Are they lazy? Selfish? They don’t care about the environment? Should plastic straws be banned? How about plastic shopping bags? These bans are becoming more and more popular throughout the world, along with companies deciding to no longer offer disposables.

But wait- what about people who, because of disability, need these items? They can just use alternatives, right? They can use paper straws, or bring their own reusable straws and bags, can’t they? Not always. In fact, people with disabilities are often unable to use the alternatives that might seem just common sense to able-bodied people.

A middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman sit in wheelchair scooters at the bottom of a ramp in front of some steps. They both have crutches hanging on their wheelchairs. The man has several stuffed animals in the basket n the front of his wheelchair.
Image by fsHH from Pixabay

Some people with compromised immune systems cannot use reusable shopping bags because the bags are vectors for bacteria and mold, which will make them ill. Some disabled people cannot use paper straws because they don’t last long enough, and cannot use reusable straws because they don’t bend or aren’t easily cleaned. They cannot drink without a straw because of issues with mobility, swallowing, or coordination.

precut chunks of watermelon in a plastic container with a plastic fork
Image by MMT from Pixabay

Some disabled people need to buy precut fruit in plastic containers. It might seem silly and wasteful to see peeled oranges wrapped in plastic, when oranges come with their own natural wrapper, but if you take a moment to ask yourself “who might need this? Why might this be necessary for someone?” I’m sure you can recognize that there are people who are physically unable to peel an orange.

I’ve seen many online conversations where, when a disabled person points out that they actually need disposable plastic straws, they’re bombarded with “can’t you just____?” and “you should use ____.” Don’t be that guy. Don’t challenge a disabled person as though you know better than them about their own life and disability. It’s not the duty of disabled people to prove their disabilities or needs to you. It’s not your job to decide who is “disabled enough” to “deserve” a straw or bag or whatever. Gatekeeping is ableist, and disabled people have to put up with it all the time. For the same reason, a restaurant having disposable straws tucked away to be given to disabled people who ask for them is not a good solution. Disabled people shouldn’t have to ask for accommodation. They should not feel the onus to explain why they need a straw. It’s nobody’s business but their own.

Now, I myself do not have a disability that necessitates any of the hot-topic items mentioned above. I’m glad you read my blog post, but you really should hear from disabled people on this issue. Here are some links for more information.

A video on the straw ban

Grasping at Straws: The Ableism of the Straw Ban

When Accessibility Gets Labeled Wasteful

The Last Straw: Ableism in Environmental Campaigns

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