Straws have been there for me.

In the years since my injury, the simple plastic tubes have predictably and silently supported my hydration after damage to my spinal cord took all use of my arms and hands. Out in the world, my requests for a straw have previously been granted with little more discussion than an “of course” or the surprisingly common and awkwardly flirtatious warning that drinking beer through a straw “will get you drunk faster.” In my case, that latter goal has yet to be a real factor in my straw use, but I don’t mind a good-natured poke. What I do mind, is the recent uncomfortable turn my straw requests and related conversations have taken.

While it is being discussed, my city, Portland, Oregon, has yet to ban or place limitations on the use of plastic straws. Yet, in the last few months, despite my visible need for physical assistance and wheelchair, I have been subjected to more than one server lightly chastising my straw request or explaining their discomfort with the environmental impact of straws. The first time it was surprising, but I now casually brace myself to defend my straw needs in case any lectures pop up over my ice water.

The Villainization of Straws

If you haven’t noticed, the villainization of the straw is working. Internet campaigns and a strong anti-straw environmental lobby has been effective both with citizens and small and large business owners. Entire cities, like Seattle, and my hometown of San Luis Obispo, California, have banned plastic straws. In some locations, fines and jail time have been discussed for plastic straw violations – Santa Barbara, California, a town where I’ve recently lived, has passed such an ordinance. On top of this, straw-free declarations have been made by multiple national airlines, hotels and food corporations, like Marriott and Starbucks, among others, promising to phase out straws in upcoming months despite expert assessments that straws have a relatively small environmental impact overall.


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