Disability advocates condemn South Australia's proposed ban on single-use plastics
Posted July 10, 2019 06:49:36
Sticking up for plastic straws is not a trendy stance to take, but for Glenda Lee the throwaway items are a lifeline.
- The SA Government has proposed a ban on single-use plastics in the state
- Disability advocates say plastic straws are “absolutely essential”
- The State Government says exemptions could be put in place for some people
Ms Lee, 62, has spinal muscular atrophy, which makes daily activities difficult, and she needs plastic straws every time she has a drink.
“I can’t lift a mug of tea or coffee to my mouth, or a water bottle or any drink at all,” she said.
“If I don’t have a straw, I don’t have a drink. They are absolutely, absolutely essential.”
In recent weeks, Ms Lee has become the target of online attacks because of her opposition to what she describes as a “hysterical campaign”.
In South Australia, where Ms Lee lives, the State Government has just proposed a ban on single-use plastic products.
The proposed legislation would make SA the first state in the country to prohibit such items and is part of a global push to prevent plastic waste from ending up in oceans and waterways.
The European Union has also moved closer to banning plastic straws and other single-use items like plates, cutlery and cotton swabs.
The idea has been strongly supported by environmentalists but there has also been a considerable backlash, including from disability advocates.
“When you consider the amount of single-use plastic that goes into the ocean besides plastic straws, this has really been a hysterical reaction,” Ms Lee said.
“All the cafes are already starting to get onto this because it’s trendy. It’s yuppy activism.”
Advocates say people with disabilities will become unintended victims of bans because plastic drinking straws play an essential role in their lives.
The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations is among the groups to have objected to the South Australian proposal.
‘They bite them and break their teeth’
There are various reasons why people with disabilities require plastic straws, and why some do not support the alternatives — such as metal or paper straws — which have been proposed.
Often those reasons depend on the nature of someone’s disability.
“[The alternatives] are either not suitable for hot liquids [or] they are not repositionable for people that have physical mobility restrictions,” explained disability advocate and activist Ruby Allegra.
The advantage of plastic straws is that they bend, and are therefore easier to use for people who have mobility issues.
“People with cerebral palsy don’t always have control of their mouth so they might accidentally chew on the straw, so paper straws are useless for them,” Ms Lee said.
“That’s another reason why metal straws are no good — they bite them and break their teeth.
“If you haven’t got good control of your body movements and you’re leaning forward to a metal straw, you could shove that straw right down your throat or in your eye or up your nose. All these things have happened.”
On Monday, British media reported a case of a woman in Dorset in south-west England who died after being impaled through her eye by a metal straw.
The woman was reported to have mobility issues.
Ms Lee believes a ban on plastic straws would be in breach of equality requirements in the federal Disability Discrimination Act and is urging the SA Government to reconsider.
People are ‘jumping straight on a trend’
A report by government agency Green Industries SA acknowledged community feedback had raised the straw ban as an issue for people with a disability.
The report said their needs would be carefully considered — but it did not elaborate any further.
Adelaide-based disability activist Ruby Allegra said paper straws are too flimsy, and metal ones are dangerous because they are not flexible or soft enough.
“The burden of providing access shouldn’t be on disabled people,” they said.
“That’s like saying to a wheelchair user ‘bring your own ramp’ to anywhere you want to go. That’s not how access should be.
“Straws provide some disabled people with the ability to access food, access drink and to access medication.
“It’s just an example of people jumping straight on a trend without people thinking about the ramifications for vulnerable populations.”
‘You can simply provide exemptions’
Disability service provider Cara, which works with more than 750 people with disabilities, has expressed support for the move but said it was important the right people were consulted in the process.
“It would be disappointing if the Government didn’t consult with people with disabilities and there are many peak bodies they could reach out to,” Cara chief executive Liz Cohen said.
SA Environment Minister David Speirs responded to the concerns and said the State Government had spoken at length with the disability sector about the issue.
“You can simply provide exemptions to allow particular people to be able to have straws,” he told the ABC.
“Everyone will be consulted and, as I say, we’ll be modelling some of our work on what’s happened overseas, where it’s worked fantastically.”
He said the State Government would look to implement the ban quickly but people with disabilities would be consulted as part of the process.