The Walt Disney Company is the latest company to hop on the plastic straw-free bandwagon.
Joining Starbucks and Marriott, Disney has said it will eliminate plastic straws, stirrers, and cups in its theme parks, cruise ships, and stores. The company said it will start phasing out the products by mid-2019 and expects to save 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers every year.
But here's the thing: There are major drawbacks to a total plastic straw ban.
First of all, straws don't really account for a large percentage of plastic waste. There are other items that cause way more harm to the environment: fishing nets, shopping bags, bottle caps, balloons, cigarette butts, and food wrappers, just to name a few.
But more importantly, it's actually critically important for disabled people to have access to single-use, flexible plastic straws. (Read why here.)
For a company that's known to foster inclusivity, accessibility, and creative imagination, a total plastic straw ban is a pretty tactless move — especially since there's so much else Disney can do.
Some consider Disney's decision to ban straws hypocritical considering that some water rollercoasters at its theme parks offer plastic bags for riders to put their personal belongings in.
There are plenty of other impactful ways Disney can reduce plastic waste without negatively affecting disabled people.
1. There's no reason to ban plastic straws completely when Disney could just cut down on their use.
The company could order fewer straws and instead of handing them out to every customer by default, provide straws to those who ask for them.
2. There are many things Disney could ban instead of straws.
Many of the other plastic items found at Disney theme parks are far more harmful to the environment than single-use straws. Instead of straws, Disney could ban plastic utensils — one of the most common items found in California landfills — from their establishments and replace them with alternatives that are either reusable or compostable.
3. Disney could set up lockers instead of handing out plastic bags for riders to stash their personal belongings in.
Disney recently announced that Ziploc is the new official sponsor of Splash Mountain, which can seat up to 1,500 riders per hour, as well as Epcot's Kidcot Fun Stops. That's a lot of bags — and a lot of harm to the ocean. Plastic bags are also a land hazard because they can take up to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill.
4. Disney could halt the production and/or sales of balloons.
Balloon litter has tripled in the past three years, according to Balloon Blows, a nonprofit dedicated to balloon reduction. While some states have already introduced laws that prevent people from releasing balloons in the air, it's not a law that's easy to enforce. That's why one of the most effective ways Disney can help curb balloon littering is by simply refusing to sell them.
Make no mistake: Disney is taking commendable steps toward becoming a more environmentally conscious company.
But we can all work together to clean and save our planet without harming people in our own communities.