Eco Ableism, Classism and Straws

Eco-ableism is simply a form of ableism, or discrimination in favour of able-bodied people. Like racism, ableism marginalises a group of people and creates a second class citizenry. Biodegradable products are typically less accessible, more expensive, and rarely offer a genuine replacement for their plastic predecessor.

Recent environmental campaigns have focused on the use of plastic straws as an easy way to eliminate and decrease plastic waste. Harmless in theory, this campaign is actually detrimental to a wide range of persons with disabilities. The mechanics of lifting one’s arm to drink is not universally able; many people with mobility impairment, chronic pain, or other issues are unable to drink without the aid of a straw. This issue extends to a variety of products and items that are labeled as “convenience items” for able-bodied people, but are critical to the health of persons with disabilities.

The angle of one’s straw is important when you are unable to hold a cup yourself, or need someone to hold it for you. Metal and bamboo straws have the same issue, and are often too wide, which is not ideal for people with biting issues. Reusable straws run the risk of collecting bacteria, which is dangerous when autoimmune disorders are a factor. 

Most persons with disabilities are already at a disadvantage economically.

Research consistently finds that disabled people are less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people and when employed they receive, on average, lower pay”

Equality and human rights commission

We need to make environmentalism more accessible for the disadvantaged. Instead of demonising plastic straws, able bodied people should find another plastic product that is more universally able to be boycotted or reduced. If you have the financial flexibility, spend a few dollars more on a sustainable product over a cheaper, less responsible option. Initiatives seeking green solutions to issues such as pollution, carbon emissions, and renewable energy often do not take the needs of low-income communities into consideration.

Working class people, and people living with disabilities all are institutionally discriminated against. It’s up to social activist groups to fight against that racism and classism, and eventually make their way up to influencing new policies and regulations.

featured image: Chemist 4 U, Plastic straws stock photo image that is free to use under CC 2.0.

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