The horrifying images of animals tangled in plastic bags and eye-opening statistics about the volume of plastic waste in oceans have been debated and shared all over the world on social media. Just recently, Seattle passed a law banning plastic straws and utensils in restaurants, which has prompted a wave of companies following this lead, including Alaska Airlines and Starbucks. For some, this movement has been a decades-long battle to raise awareness about consumption and the increasing plastic waste in oceans. For others, the ban has raised questions about the effectiveness of the ban. Some are wondering: is this a movement with traction, or is it another environmental fad used for good company publicity? In addition, the ban has raised questions about its attention to accessibility. The flexibility of plastic straws is often necessary for people with disabilities, and alternative single-use utensils can cause allergic reactions. While the ban’s original goal was to stimulate conversation, there are still some lingering questions that must be addressed.

Sustainability is not a trendy ideal or buzzword that solely catersto the elite, the tech-savvy, or the outdoor enthusiast. Initiatives must be catered in away that benefits all communities and ensures that every person has an equitable voice in environmental movements. While the ban is already in effect, this is an opportunity to expand conversations on single-use items, provide alternative solutions, and ensure that those with disabilities can enjoy the same eco-friendly alternatives without putting their safety at risk.

David Perry wrote for the Pacific Standard “banning plastic straws won’t save our environment.” In a way, he is correct. Simply put, banning plastic straws won’t save the environment. However, this ban will reduce overall plastic usage and encourage more conscious consumer choices, which will impact predicted demand patterns used by companies worldwide. It is not the ban that will save the world; rather, it is the pedagogical shift in consumer tastes and product designs. Furthermore, personal sustainability and holding corporations accountable are not mutually exclusive. Individuals can partake in actions to reduce personal waste and hold corporations to a higher standard to represent the planet’s best interests.

 

A special thank you to our guest blogger, Serena Allendorfer, a student at University of Washington.