originally published October 18, 2018, Update November 14, 2019.
By: B.R. Meston
When it came to my attention that Carleton was joining the choir of organizations endorsing the ban on plastic straws, I was met with a feeling of disbelief.
When have we gone too far? Is the ban on plastic straws really about helping the environment? Or, is it more about making left-wing environmentalists feel like they are doing something?
Don’t get me wrong, others in the disabled community and I want to do our part to make a positive impact on the environment. However, I do not buy the argument that that must come at our detriment. What Carleton is proposing simply will not work for many in the disabled community. Paper straws melt in hot drinks. This creates the possibility for a choking hazard, because some people with disabilities, who already may have difficulty swallowing, now run the risk of swallowing the pieces of paper. Some people have sensory issues to paper straws.
Metal straws as an alternative also do not work. Both paper and metal straws are not as flexible as the plastic alternative. Not to mention, metal straws contain the heat of a hot liquid, raising the risk of burning the intended drinker.
These are all things Carleton would be aware of if they had done an ounce of consultation with the very people that are going to be most affected by this all-out ban.
Either way, there are other things that we could be doing to benefit the environment, and I would suggest that the ban on plastic straws has more to do with the fact that it is an easy thing to do, and that, arguably, it allows for a good talking point when Carleton is asked what it is doing to benefit the environment.
However, this issue is bigger than just plastic straws. To me, it shows quite clearly that there are not enough people with disabilities who are represented within the structure of student government on campus.
These issues would have been brought to the forefront of the discussion, if there had been a member of the disability community who was part of the student government when this decision was made. The fact that nobody thought to consult students with disabilities is utterly disappointing, and shows a larger systemic issue within Carleton that needs to be addressed.
How can Carleton claim to be the most accessible and inclusive university in North America, while still managing to make such a grave lapse in judgment? It is honestly appalling, and I have never been more disappointed to be a Carleton student than when I first read about this ban.
As much as I do not like this approach, I would like to suggest a middle-of-the-road alternative.
The university could have plastic straws available upon request to those who need them. The problem with this alternative is that, once again, it requires the person with the disability to be in the uncomfortable position of asking for accommodation for something as simple as a plastic straw.
If there comes a day when we can find a suitable alternative to plastic straws, we in the disability community will be the first to scream it from the rooftops. In the meantime, I hope that this issue begins a larger conversation in the Carleton community about how the voices of people who are what I like to call “differently-abled” are included within our school.
Maybe for once we will not be considered an afterthought. I knew since the first day I started studying here that even though Carleton has come so far in supporting those who are differently-abled, we still have a long way to go—and now, in a very public way, Carleton has proved my point.