Banning plastic straws doesn’t do enough for turtles—or our society

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Regardless of the damage plastic straws do to sea turtles, it’s impossible to eradicate them without damaging economic and physical accessibility.
 
Ontario, however, might do just that. 
 
After releasing a discussion paper on reducing litter and waste last week, Environment Minister Rod Phillips said the provincial government would be “very open” to implementing a single-use plastics ban province-wide. 
 
Flimsy plastics’ detriments are clear. Our oceans have turned into cocktails of floating plastic bags and empty bottles of soda, killing marine life and polluting the environment. Almost one tonne of waste per Ontarian is generated yearly, and the rate at which recycling and composting waste diverted from landfills has stalled around 30 percent for the past 15 years. 
 
Plastics are omnipresent in everything from milk cartons to toothbrushes. They also serve a distinct purpose. Though most bars, restaurants, and coffee shops offer biodegradable straws or sell reusable ones, many people living with physical disabilities need low-cost, flexible plastic straws and utensils. Paper straws dissolve, metal gets too hot or cold for those with sensitivities, and reusable straws are easily forgotten at home. 
 
That’s not to say we should continue using plastic as we have. The New York Times has compared our plastic dependence to a “drug habit that needs to be kicked.” But attempting to virtue-signal by eliminating products people need doesn’t help the overall cause.
 
Straws make up a fraction of ocean pollution, while microplastics in cosmetics and industrial waste accumulate through the marine food chain without public attention. Not everyone can afford stainless-steel straws or macramé shopping bags. Few have the time and funds to peruse year-round farmers’ markets. 
 
Placing the onus for plastic use on consumers instead of companies refusing to adapt to changing environmental standards doesn’t promote sufficient change. Rather than holding every member of our unequal society to the same standard, we should ask single-use plastic producers to offer more sustainable options available to all on the socioeconomic and ability spectrums. 
 
In the meantime, those who can afford to use reusable products in place of single-use plastics should continue to be recognized for their commitment. Small and large businesses should promote convenient sustainable options for their customers. And environmental non-profits should pursue offering programs that educate the public on mitigating plastic, food, and water waste borne from consumerism. 
 
In place of implementing a restrictive ban on single-use plastics, the Ontario government should pursue creative solutions to our waste problem. 
 
Before we can be expected to change our lifestyles, we need to ensure everyone is able to do so without threatening their personal health or stability. Banning plastic in our current social state makes public spaces even more inaccessible for those in need of accommodation. 
 
 

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