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There's an unexpected downfall to banning plastic straws. Here's what to consider.

Cities are starting to ban plastic straws in an effort to minimize waste. Great news, right?

Well, that depends.

Nobody likes waste, but sometimes in our rush to eliminate it, we don't think through the consequences of our actions. Take, for example, the push to ban plastic straws.


As of July 1, restaurants in Seattle are banned from giving customers non-recyclable plastic utensils or straws. Restaurants can still provide customers with a number of durable or compostable utensils or straws upon request.

Other cities that have banned or restricted the use of straws include Edmonds, Washington; Miami Beach and Fort Myers Beach, Florida; Monmouth Beach, New Jersey; and a slew of California towns including Alameda, Berkeley, Carmel, Davis, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Oakland, Richmond, and San Luis Obispo.

[rebelmouse-image 19346017 dam="1" original_size="750x436" caption="Photo by Ayotunde Oguntoyinbo/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Ayotunde Oguntoyinbo/Unsplash.

But for some people, the disappearance of plastic straws is really bad news.

Flexible, single-use plastic straws are what make it possible for many disabled people to drink beverages. Eliminating them means requiring people to drink directly from the lip of their cup — a function that many disabled people simply aren't able to perform.

Many have suggested commonsense alternatives to plastic straws, like paper or metal ones. But in an interview with iNews, Scottish disability rights activist Jamie Szymkowiak explained exactly why popular alternatives don't meet the needs of some disabled individuals.

Permanent straw options, like metal or bamboo, are too hard for some people who rely on the flexibility of a plastic straw. (Injury is also a risk.) Biodegradable paper straws have a tendency to disintegrate when placed into heated drinks — which can pose a hazard of its own — and porous silicone straws require cleaning immediately after use.

Some might ask why people who need access to old-school plastic straws don't just purchase and bring their own wherever they go.

And sure, that is technically a solution. But making disabled people pay for something that's available to everyone else for free is a type of tax. While it's not necessarily an expensive tax, these types of things add up, and implementing a policy that makes the simple act of drinking prohibitive to certain groups sets a bad precedent.

[rebelmouse-image 19346018 dam="1" original_size="750x437" caption="Photo by Horia Varlan/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]Photo by Horia Varlan/Wikimedia Commons.

The real problem is that cities considering restrictions simply aren't taking disabled voices into account.

Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer living in Vancouver, has been keeping tabs on her city's plans to ban straws. What's concerning to her is that even after disability advocates presented information to elected officials, she felt their concerns were largely ignored.

Also troubling to Peters is the fact that the specific push to ban straws appears to be driven by a viral video about a turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril rather than on researched facts and statistics.

"We should feel compelled to act," she says. "But it is essential we temper our emotional response with considered thought so we don't respond in a way that ends up doing something that causes additional, different, and potentially more widespread suffering."

Peters' solution is simple: "People who don’t need straws should not use them. People who do should."

"We need to make straws accessible to those who need them," she says. "Don't turn them into a medical item, which will negatively affect availability and lead to increased expense and stigma."

As someone with dysphagia, a condition marked by a difficulty swallowing, Peters has at points relied on straws to avoid burns, broken glasses, and spilled drinks. (She's careful to note, though, that straws won't necessarily help all people with dysphagia.)

"Our solutions and adaptations are not something you can neatly chart. We figure out what works for our bodies AND our lives," she says.

In this case, that might mean people who don't need straws voluntarily choosing not to use them while also letting them remain available for those who do.

This photo shows an injured Marine, but it's important to remember that disability takes many forms and isn't necessarily something the average observer can see in someone else. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

It's important to look clearly at a problem before jumping to a  "solution" that doesn't actually make sense.

Maybe a plastic straw ban wouldn't personally affect you; maybe it seems like a small price to pay if it has a big impact on improving the health of the world's oceans. But here's the thing: It doesn't!

What makes the entire debate over straws that much more confusing is the fact that disposable straws don't actually contribute much to the abundance of plastic waste relative to other items in the ocean. So by proposing a ban on them, we're asking disabled people to sacrifice a lot in order to gain just a little in the fight for environmental health. And by doing that, we're demonstrating a frightening lack of empathy.

As a society, we are far too quick to write off the concerns of marginalized groups as insignificant or inconvenient.

The next time someone comes to you with a concern, especially if it relates to inclusion or accessibility, try to make a real effort to actually hear what they have to say, and then maybe ask yourself why something like banning a plastic straw is so important to you, anyway.

If we can't take care of each other, we can't take care of the earth. So let's start there.

Science

Sustainably good news: Recycling is getting better and this family is showing us how

What if instead of focusing on what isn’t working, we looked at these stories as an invitation to do better?

Via Ridwell

Ryan Metzger and son Owen

There is no shortage of dire news about the state of modern recycling. Most recently, this NPR article shared the jaw-dropping statistic that about 5% of all plastics produced get recycled, meaning the rest of it ends up in landfills. While the underlying concerns here are sound, I worry that the public narrative around recycling has gotten so pessimistic that it will make people give up on it entirely instead of seeing the opportunities to improve it. What if instead of focusing on what isn’t working, we looked at these news stories as an invitation to do better?

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During a double feature of “The Mummy” and “The Mummy Returns” in London, moviegoers got the ultimate surprise when who should walk in but Brendan Fraser himself, completely decked out in Rick O’Connell attire. The brown leather jacket. The scarf. Everything.

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In today's world, it's easy to get caught up in all the negative news we're exposed to, but in reality, most good deeds are done away from a camera—just one person helping another without desire for fanfare. And for mom Bryanne McBride and her young son, Mason, that's exactly what they were doing when they got the surprise of a lifetime.

Bryanne was approached by a man in a parking lot asking for a dollar to catch the bus. The entire time, the mom scrounged around in her purse looking for spare change and revealed she felt bad because she thought she had some. Bryanne's desire to help was a simple act of kindness to another human in need without the expectation of something in return.

During the time it took for the unsuspecting mother to dig for loose change, the "stranded" stranger, Zach, introduced himself and asked if the duo were from Philly. Once they said they were from the area, he then inquired if they were Eagles fans...the football team, not the birds. "You ever been to an Eagles game?" Zach asked.

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Woman without an internal monologue explains what it's like inside her head

“She's broken my mind. I don't even understand what I'm not understanding."

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The notion of living without an internal monologue is a fairly new one. Until psychologist Russell Hurlburt’s studies started coming out in the late 90s, it was widely accepted that everyone had a little voice narrating in their head. Now Hurlburt, who has been studying people's "inner experience" for 40 years, estimates that only 30-50% of the population frequently think this way.

So what about the other 50-70%? What exactly goes on inside their heads from day to day?

In a video interview originally posted in 2020, a woman named Kirsten Carlson gave some insight into this question, sharing how not having an inner dialogue affected her reading and writing, her interactions with others and how she navigates mental challenges like anxiety and depression. It was eye-opening and mind-blowing.
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They are using their unique family arrangement to help people better understand polyamory.

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Taya Hartless, 28, and Alysia Rogers, 34, along with their husbands Sean, 46, and Tyler, 35, are in a polyamorous relationship and have no problem sharing their lifestyle with the public on social media. Even though they risk stigmatization for being open about their non-traditional relationships, they are sharing it with the world to make it a safer place for “poly” folks like themselves.

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Native Siberian shares what daily life entails in the coldest village on Earth

See how the people of Yakutia, Siberia take showers, do laundry, go to school and more in minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

A man in the Yakutia region of Siberia takes an ice bath in minus 50 degrees Celsius.

For most of us, waking up to a temperature of minus 50 degrees would spell catastrophe. Normal life would come to a screeching halt, we'd be scrambling to deal with frozen pipes and power outages, school and work would be canceled and weather warnings would tell us not to venture outside due to frostbite risk.

But in the Yakutia region of Siberia, that's just an average winter day where life goes on as usual.

When you live in the coldest inhabited area on Earth, your entire life is arranged around dealing with ridiculously cold temperatures. Villages don't have running water because freezing pipes wouldn't allow for water treatment. Kids go to school unless the temp drops below minus 55 degrees Celsius (which is then considered dangerous). Showering involves spending hours stoking a fire in the bathhouse to create a steamy, warm room.

Native Siberian Kiun B. has created a series of documentary short films detailing what daily life is like in Yakutia's frigid winters. She was born and raised in Yakutsk, Siberia, widely recognized as the coldest city on Earth, where average winter temperatures hover around minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. As seen in her videos, smaller villages in the Yakutia region regularly dip down into the negative 50s, with the lowest recorded temp in the Yakut village of Oymayakon reaching a mindblowing minus 96 degrees Fahrenheit.

The popularity of Kiun's YouTube channel demonstrates how curious people are about life in such harsh conditions, as her videos have been viewed by tens of millions of people in the past year alone.

Check out this video detailing a day in the life of a family in a Yakutia village.

Can you imagine going out to use an outhouse in minus 40 degrees? Oof.

Another of Kiun's videos goes into more detail about how people shower and do laundry in the region. You might assume they wouldn't line-dry their laundry outdoors, but they do.

Watch:

What do people wear to protect themselves from the negative temperatures? Frostbite is a real risk, so it's important to have the right kinds of clothing and outdoor gear to stay safe and relatively comfortable.

Kiun shared some frigid fashion norms from Yakutsk, which include traditional fur hats and boots as well as lots of layers and down jackets.

However, there are some Yakut folks who see the cold as something to embrace. For instance, this man takes an ice bath out in the elements as a morning ritual. It's something he has worked up to—definitely not something to try on your own during a cold snap—but it still has to be painful.

(Seriously, please don't try this at home.)

The way humans have learned to adapt to drastically different environments, from the sweltering tropics to the Arctic tundra, is incredible, and it's fascinating to get a close-up look at how people make life work in those extremes. Thank you, Kiun B., for giving us a glimpse of what it's like to experience life in the dead of winter in the world's coldest inhabited places.

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