Plastic straws - a necessary evil?

Plastic straws - a necessary evil?

Several countries, including New Zealand, are looking to ban single-use plastic straws, more specifically from restaurants, fast food outlets, and cafes.  Currently, these straws are not biodegradable, and, as with many of these plastics, they are building up in rubbish piles, and in our oceans. Certainly, when my husband was diving in the Philippines last year, the thing he mentioned first was the amount of plastic floating around there and washing up on the shores.

The problem that we as a disability community have, is that these straws are essential to many of us.  People with limited mobility, spasms, tremors and swallowing difficulties (to name a few), rely on straws for independence, safety and dignity.  So, what is the answer?

Reusable plastic straws can be found, but are commonly used in conjunction with a drink bottle.  This seems to be a great alternative, though some may be tricky to remove from the bottle for effective cleaning.  I’m also not sure whether a plastic bottle is manufactured to withstand hot drinks. That would certainly need investigating for each brand of bottle/straw being considered.

Paper straws are another alternative.  Unfortunately, they have a tendency to disintegrate, flaking after 2 hours or so in a liquid.  They are also not suited for ‘chewers’. A person with a clamp reflex would struggle to use a paper straw without destroying it before finishing their drink,  It is also near on impossible to find paper straws with the flexible section - I haven’t found any yet.

Stainless steel straws may work for some, but not all.  An individual who may clamp their teeth, or a person with sensory issues who chews, will likely find a metal straw uncomfortable, or potentially dangerous as the straw will not be kind to your teeth.  Hot drinks being drunk through a stainless steel straw are also problematic. Many of the stainless straws are straight, which may cause issues, although if you look further afield it is possible to find some which are made with a bend in them.   There is the advantage though, that these straws don’t bend over the edge of the cup/glass. Also, being that little bit heavier, there is less ‘chasing’ them around the glass. These straws are easy to keep clean and hygienic, as they are able to go through the dishwasher, or sterilised in boiling water.

Silicone straws are becoming more popular.  They can be purchased straight or with a bend, or even a set with both.  Many come with their own straw cleaning brush, but they can also be washed in the dishwasher, or sterilised in boiling water.  The silicone is durable and flexible. It is made from the same material used to make ‘chewelry’ so is very safe, though some may find them ‘uncomfortable’ due to sensory issues.

There are other types of straws available, if you are willing to put in the time searching and sourcing them from around the world.  I have heard of pasta straws (not for me, I have a gluten allergy), bamboo straws and biodegradable straws made from corn. These are unlikely to be available in New Zealand, so there is also the carbon footprint to consider.

Whichever straw you decide works best for you and your loved one, I highly recommend purchasing several, and keeping some with you when out and about.  It may not be long before we find cafes and restaurants unable or unwilling to provide us with a single-use plastic straw. It is also worth remembering to take one or two on those hospital stays…..