Ban on plastic straws could affect people with disabilities

1 week 3 days 2 hours ago Tuesday, July 10 2018 Jul 10, 2018 Tuesday, July 10, 2018 3:08:00 PM CDT July 10, 2018 in News
By: Emma Claybrook, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - Starbucks announced Monday that it would eliminate plastic straws from use in all stores by 2020. While this is a step forward for the environment, it could affect people with disabilities in a negative way. 

"People who have had strokes, have Cerebral Palsy, have had traumatic brain injuries or anything neurological happen could impact their ability to swallow effectively and safely," said feeding and swallowing therapist Laura Powell.

One user commented on KOMU 8's Facebook post about Starbucks' plans and said, "This is unfortunate, We need to find a way somehow, I agree. But this will prevent many of the disabled people I work with and love from going there. Maybe biodegradable straws and cups?"

Powell said paper straws can cause a choking hazard if they become soggy.

"I know from having my daughter use paper straws because they are cute and all of that, if they sit in the liquid for a long time they tend to kind of fall apart," Powell said.

"Straws in general help people with disabilities access liquids. So if they didn't have an option to use a straw, people with mobility issues, either permanent or temporary, might be impacted by not being able to access their liquid easily from a cup," Powell said.

The city of Seattle put a new law into effect July 1 that bans plastic straws and utensils. Instead, businesses have to use compostable straws and utensils. 

According to Seattle Public Utilities, the law banning plastic straws does allow for "flexible plastic straws" to be provided to customers who need them "because of medical reasons."

Powell says this allows for people with disabilities to be included in dining experiences.

"I just think that it is more inclusive of everyone and their needs in the community, and so, having a clause might be more inclusive to have somebody be a part of a conversation with friends or family while they are dining," Powell said. 

At Therapy Unlimited in Columbia, Powell helps patients improve their suction ability. 

"In therapy, a straw is useful to help someone improve their ability to suck on something," Powell said. "That also in turn helps their ability to get their food and liquid together to have an efficient swallow."

Starbucks does have alternative straw options, including new strawless lids and "alternative-material straw options". 

Starbucks said in a press release, "The largest food and beverage retailer to make such a global commitment, anticipates the move will eliminate more than one billion plastic straws per year from Starbucks stores."

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