The Push to Ban Plastic Straws

3 October 2019

From Donald Trump to Kim Kardashian, many people have taken a position on the vexed issue of plastic straws.

A movement to ban single-use plastic gathered steam in 2016, stemming from a Greenpeace awareness campaign.  It spread quickly, with countless celebrities decrying war on plastic straws on social media and the United Nations declaring war on single-use plastics.

Plastic straws have been targeted by activists because they are widely used and do not break down over time.  While most soft plastic is recyclable, many recycling facilities refuse plastic straws because their small size means that they can obstruct machinery or fall through gaps in conveyor belts.

The campaign has been embraced by prominent food and beverage venues such as Starbucks.  Activists have also lobbied cities and other jurisdictions to stop buying plastic straws or to prohibit private hospitality venues from using them.  These jurisdictions includes the cities of Seattle, San Francisco and New York.

In May this year, the United Kingdom announced a ban on UK businesses offering plastic straws.  Across the ditch in Australia, the South Australian Government recently announced plans to ban plastic straws, and many clubs and other licensed venues have been approached by campaigners asking them to remove plastic straws.  In New Zealand, given the recent ban on plastic bags, it is not inconceivable that plastic straws might be next on the chopping block, in fact, many hospitality venues have already made switch to paper straws or ask patrons if they want a straw rather than just giving one.

While the campaign continues to pick up steam, some disability groups have urged caution.  They claim that people with certain disabilities, such as muscular dystrophy, cannot consume beverages without straws.  These groups further maintain that substitutes, such as paper, bamboo and metal straws, pose choking or other hazards to people with disabilities.

In July this year, an English women died after falling over while holding a drink containing a metal straw.  The straw impaled her eye, causing fatal brain injuries.  Disability groups are concerned that their needs have been ignored in the push to ban plastic straws.

Given the opposition from disability groups, the UK government's ban includes an exemption applying to people with disabilities.  Under this exemption, catering establishments, such as pubs, cannot display plastic straws but are able to provide them on request.  The South Australian government is exploring the idea of a similar exemption.

Some disability groups claim that requiring people to request plastic straws disadvantages those with disabilities.  The groups point to feedback that, when asking for plastic straws, people with disabilities have been asked for evidence of their disability or have been lectured about the damage plastic is doing to the environment.

Therefore, disability groups recommend that hospitality venues that wish to restrict the use of plastic should make both plastic and non-plastic straws available, giving patrons the opportunity to choose.

While this article sets out the diverse views on plastic straws, any potential measures or policies on plastic straws is an individual business decision for each club to make.

(SOURCE: Simon Sawday, ClubsNSW Senior Policy Officer, ClubLIFE Sept 2019)

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