A Nonpartisan Look at The Very Stupid Straw Ban
August 31, 2018 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Cody Johnston has an incredibly funny and intelligent youtube show called "Some More News". His video on the straw ban is fact-filled and nuanced (and funny) as are his other videos . Here's the Straw Ban video:
posted by bearette (38 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I sat in on a meeting where my co-workers were trying to work out how to measure the effects of a program to cut down on unnecessary waste, of which reducing the use of disposable plastic straws is a part, alongside coffee cups, plastic shopping bags, unrecyclable packaging, disposable furniture, and so on.

At this point, social media (and just enough of MetaFilter) has broken me. I see "straw bans are ableist" as basically in the same category as "solar panels are impractical because they don't work at night" - it's such a bad faith argument that I can't really engage with the compassion and patience required. It's almost always Americans, too.
posted by Merus at 7:21 AM on August 31, 2018 [5 favorites]


Did you watch the video? Because he spends most of it addressing other aspects of the debate. It would be nice to have a discussion on those, too.
posted by bearette at 7:23 AM on August 31, 2018 [11 favorites]


It's not a bad faith argument. It's a reality for millions.
Always the focus on environmental problems is redirected into anger at the choices of individuals, when the real problem is almost always the actions of business. Making a big fuss about disposable plastic bags so we don't call companies on miles of discarded pallet wrap every day. Individuals should turn themselves into tiny recycling centres, putting hours of extra labour into dealing with the negative externalities of the choices forced upon us, instead of investing in serious centralised solutions for what waste is necessary, and looking at reforming the practices of industries in the first place.
It's not that I think plastic straws or bags are ideal, but it's a great distraction to spend people's time on campaigns against small symptoms rather than the diseases themselves.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 7:30 AM on August 31, 2018 [54 favorites]


Leaving aside the distraction issue, which is separate and valid, our town's version of the straw ban is, I think, very reasonable. The local group pushing for it is just asking businesses to not *automatically* serve straws with every drink. If you ask for a straw, they'll bring you one, no muss no fuss. But they also don't leave a giant fistful of straws on your table that no one really needs.
posted by telepanda at 7:32 AM on August 31, 2018 [13 favorites]


Why would anyone try to ban straw? Oh right, plastic straws. I had already forgotten about it. My reaction to the news of the "ban" involved some mild irritation at the fact they didn't instead go after the more deserving target of disposable paper cups and their plastic lids, and my guess is that I was probably in the 98th percentile of cynicism. Nothing compared to this guy. I don't know if he's in the pay of Big Straw or what, but it's really over-the-top.
posted by sfenders at 7:33 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


I gave it five minutes. He pointed out that a kid seems to have assessed the straw figure by making phone calls for a school report. He then proceeds to compare it to other pollutants, dismissing the scale of concern as perhaps hypocritical, and then goes for a lot of diverse things like harming the disabled by banning straws. Starting small is an easy target for the two-wrongs fallacy it seems. Naysayers seem to miss the point about the most dangerous products are very small, and for only a few reasons: plastic straws are single-use by design, and generally non-recyclable, and they somehow get swallowed by birds, fish, and other sea creatures including squid we eat. The same happens to plastic caps, especially colored ones. The straw ban needs a spokesperson with a simple message.
posted by Brian B. at 7:34 AM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


I see "straw bans are ableist" as basically in the same category as "solar panels are impractical because they don't work at night"

Then you clearly don't have disabled friends and/or maybe don't understand what ableism is.

The solar panel comment displays an ignorance of how solar power works. The straw comment is an accurate reflection of the needs of the disabled.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:42 AM on August 31, 2018 [25 favorites]


for me, the "straw ban" is a perfect study in the insane polarization we have achieved in the US, and the extent to which social media can take something from dialog to hell-bent-holy-war in six seconds. :(
posted by rude.boy at 7:43 AM on August 31, 2018 [10 favorites]


It's not that I think plastic straws or bags are ideal, but it's a great distraction to spend people's time on campaigns against small symptoms rather than the diseases themselves.
I agree. In this country the latest government fad is to tax coffee cups, ban disposable plastic straws and so on. It makes for good, cheap tabloid headlines about how the government is Doing Something about the Environment but in the great scheme of things makes very little difference.

Instead of slapping taxes and bans on disposable crap, a government that genuinely cared about the environment rather than newspaper headlines would look at consumer capitalism as a whole and ask whether we need to try a different system. They'd look at things like ever-increasing working hours and lengthening commutes (outside London, predominantly by car) meaning people are buying plastic-packaged pre-made crap instead of cooking fresh.

Instead of banning kids from buying Red Bull, why not find out why children feel the need to down strong caffeine and sugar drinks before school every morning and go after the root causes - poverty, stress, tiredness? Because that wouldn't plaster a "the government is great!" headline on the front of the Mail and Sun.

Yes, disposable plastic carrier bags are stupid and I don't mourn their disappearance from our supermarket checkouts. But the focus on things visible to individuals in day-to-day life masks the deeper malaise in a capitalist system that values continuous economic growth over environmental and waste concerns.
posted by winterhill at 7:44 AM on August 31, 2018 [6 favorites]


I enjoyed the video! Thank you for posting it, bearette.
posted by hopeless romantique at 7:45 AM on August 31, 2018 [4 favorites]


As he points out in the video, we've (often) forgotten to account for the production energy in accounting for how "green" something is. Plastic bags in particular took off because they're less energy-intensive to make, require less water, are lighter and require less fuel to ship to the store.

Don't get me wrong, they're definitely worse for the environment once loosed, and they're a bit of a waste stream nightmare. But the alternatives aren't all perfect. The poly-fiber reusable bags shed a ton of plastic over their lifetime, and depending on how much someone uses it, it may be more wasteful. Paper bags are flat-out worse over all if treated as single-use, which many are.

Starting small is futile if we don't also work big. We need legislation to control things that are the major pollutants. Guilting people over straws or haranguing individuals about using plastic bags isn't going to do half as much as subsidizing renewable energy, banning oil and coal extraction, and requiring reductions in run-off from farms and manufacturing sites.

We have limited capacity to devote energy and attention, and every "cause" like the straw bans is an attempt to distract us from the big problems that are actually hurting the world. Yeah the straws aren't the best for the environment, but neither is catastrophic global warming, and we've got bigger problems to tackle right now.
posted by explosion at 7:53 AM on August 31, 2018 [13 favorites]


I can do okay without straws but not everyone can. Personally, I really hope we keep/expand the use of disposable, compostable cups (paper or corn plastic) because the environmental impact of me losing reusable cups constantly when I tried to bring them to coffee shops and stuff was definitely worse than the single-use options.
posted by bagel at 8:05 AM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


I could have done without the hammering on the statistic coming from a child. It's enough to say it's wrong or unfounded. I haven't seen any better estimates.

Also, I'm not sure I've seen anyone in favor of a straw ban say that straws are *the* major source of ocean pollution, rather than a major source.

I think the disability aspect is entirely valid.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:28 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


How about we eradicate Styrofoam/Polystyrene. That's a better goal.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:37 AM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you liked this video, check out his others!! I think he needs a wider audience.
posted by bearette at 8:46 AM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


*because his videos are well-informed, nuanced, and funny
posted by bearette at 8:47 AM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, I'm not sure I've seen anyone in favor of a straw ban say that straws are *the* major source of ocean pollution, rather than a major source.

The thing is, straws aren't a major source of ocean pollution.

From the linked article:

Straws on average weigh so little—about one sixty-seventh of an ounce or .42 grams—that all those billions of straws add up to only about 2,000 tons of the nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste that yearly hits the waters.

That is 0.02% of annual plastic waste that makes it into the ocean. Not major by any measure. By way of comparison, NYC produces 12,000 tons of trash per day.

So, I mean, yes, let's reduce straw usage where we can because they are killing birds and fish, but let's not kid ourselves that it is solving a major environmental crisis or even having a meaningful impact on reducing oceanic waste overall. Because it isn't.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:53 AM on August 31, 2018 [14 favorites]


Saying that people who are advocating for less use of straws think that using less straws will single handedly save the environment is kind of a strawman argument. I think the reason why even some environmentalists are pushing for this is that they hope that the straw ban will be one of the many straws that will break the camel's back and lead to more substantial reduction of all plastic usage on a commercial and industrial level. But maybe I'm wrong in not seeing it as both sides sucking unproductively on each end of the same straw.
posted by FJT at 9:49 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Then you clearly don't have disabled friends and/or maybe don't understand what ableism is.

I do have a disabled friend but thank you for demonstrating your automatic assumption of bad faith

The solar panel comment displays an ignorance of how solar power works. The straw comment is an accurate reflection of the needs of the disabled.

They both arrogantly assume that the people pushing for these issues have not already been made aware that the problem includes more than just the item under discussion. People who support straw bans discussing the need to carve out exceptions for the disabled is a single Google search away if you wanted to emerge from the cocoon of righteous ignorance --

Always the focus on environmental problems is redirected into anger at the choices of individuals, when the real problem is almost always the actions of business. Making a big fuss about disposable plastic bags

--where it's assumed that people working on waste reduction or sustainability are not keenly aware that business and governments matter to drive this sort of change and are making people guilty just for kicks and not because consumers only ever see the consumer-facing lobbying and not the business and government lobbying--

Instead of slapping taxes and bans on disposable crap, a government that genuinely cared about the environment rather than newspaper headlines would look at consumer capitalism as a whole and ask whether we need to try a different system.

--which you have to do for years because governments are famously risk-averse, most of the governments historically in the best place to respond to environmental issues are hopelessly mired in people willing to blow up the world rather than change on the say-so of environmentalists--

We have limited capacity to devote energy and attention, and every "cause" like the straw bans is an attempt to distract us from the big problems that are actually hurting the world.

--and it would be nice if the people using their cognitive energy on complicating the narrative of environmental programs would spend more of it on actually helping

because there are no shortage of people with their whatabouteries for environmental programs, helping to strangle them in the crib, which is why so few of them ever get up. Please stop "helping"

please start asking how we can keep this unexpected momentum going onto the next thing

I would like to not feel we deserve the oblivion that's coming
posted by Merus at 10:01 AM on August 31, 2018 [4 favorites]


The whole thing turned around so quickly. I saw the (probably responsible for making straws a thing) video with the sea turtle getting a piece of straw pulled out of his nose, bought a pack of metal straws, and am doing mostly ok except when I forget them. (Or wash them at my mom's house and then get on an airplane without them.) It was good to know, easy to fix in my personal sphere, and options were available. After that it seemed like bans became a thing, especially before it was more widely known that they were an essential aid to people with certain disabilities. What I hope is that even if straw usage is discouraged, it's still understood that there's a need. I don't think manufacturers are going to stop production any time soon. And I don't think that I'm saving the planet - I figure it's me doing a tiny thing that doesn't affect me much and maybe helps things somewhat.
posted by PussKillian at 10:03 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Merus - the only reason I even know about the impact of the straw ban on disabled people is because disabled people were talking about it. And I have no doubt that exceptions to various bits of straw ban legislation are happening precisely because disabled advocacy groups made noise on the topic. So, no, saying that the straw ban is ableist is not arrogant or righteously ignorant. It is a fact. And thanks have to go to the people that pointed that out in the first place which allowed for disability-related adjustments to the policies, like in Santa Barabara. Hopefully the same thing will happen in Deerfield Beach, FL.

So dismissing "straw bans are ableist" as arrogant and ignorant pseudo-advocacy just because some municipalities have come around on the issue is itself arrogant and ignorant and also, when amplified on the national stage, actively harmful.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:29 AM on August 31, 2018 [7 favorites]


please start asking how we can keep this unexpected momentum going onto the next thing

This is the central point of most left criticism of straw bans and the like that I've seen, outside of the ableism angle. It's disingenuous to pretend that environmental campaigns fail because they're criticised by the left, they fail because of capitalism. That is to say, business interests quash things that harm the bottom line, governments support profit and growth above any other factors, and it's also just not profitable for any subset of companies to make changes if they're competing in an environment where others can save by not doing so.

A dear friend and comrade of mine has a talk about straw bans and re-usable coffee cups called "The Last Straw: Capitalism, Plastic and the Environment". When she gives it, we work on getting the people who show up to become more involved in environmental campaigning, not less. To keep momentum going, you need to address the base issues and material factors behind problems. You link the real issue of ocean pollution to wider struggle, you don't campaign on a single issue like straws but instead make sure any critique made on such issues is tied to other factors affecting the environment, like coal mining and pollutant run-offs.

A straw campaign dies the moment people perceive that the idea is out there and see some change beginning in bars and restaurants. A sustained movement which addresses the driving forces of environmental damage doesn't stop until the damage does, and should have real economic power based in organised labour which can force through change regardless of what the boss says.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 11:11 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


People who support straw bans discussing the need to carve out exceptions for the disabled is a single Google search away if you wanted to emerge from the cocoon of righteous ignorance --

Dude. Disabled people's assuming that other people's righteous crusades will not initially consider the effect on them and, even if the issue is raised, may well be executed in a way that doesn't mitigate it or even take it into consideration at all has literally ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY BEHIND IT. Of course they're going to be loud about it.
posted by praemunire at 11:27 AM on August 31, 2018 [14 favorites]


(Also, I may say, some of the present hucksters selling solar [in the literal sense] have tried very hard to divert attention away from the fact that houses that use solar in fact depend at this point in time on exploitation of the regular grid system, and will until we get better battery technology. By which I do not mean "better battery technology is announced to be totally here right now by Elon Musk." That skepticism doesn't come out of nowhere.)
posted by praemunire at 11:29 AM on August 31, 2018


Is there some reason why people's lips won't fit around paper straws anymore in this Year of Our Lord 2018?

That's all there was at the take-outs when I was a kid.
Now take your plastic straws and don't throw them on my lawn!
posted by BlueHorse at 1:59 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah, there's a plastic bag ban in my city that theoretically came into effect on Jan 1 of this year (I say theoretical, because tons of places are still offering plastic bags and I'm not sure there is any actual enforcement). I'm in favour of this kind of action, but it's strange that it's targeting only consumers when the shit that I buy (and can't put in a plastic bag) is still packaged in an absurd amount of plastic, not to mention all the plastic waste at the warehouse level.
posted by 256 at 2:21 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is this what you call a “straw ban argument?”
posted by namasaya at 5:52 PM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


For the record, I find the speaker’s “everyone else is stupid and doesn’t know the stuff I just looked up on the internet” style of presentation pretty tedious.

If you want one of this week’s real environmental stories, read about the live-on-radio resignation of France’s Minister of the Environment on Thursday based on a clear statement that our way of life is destroying the habitability of the planet, and we are not doing anything about it.
posted by namasaya at 6:02 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


I never, ever feel a desire to watch video like this, but I was seriously impressed (and even entertained) by this guy's biting wit and delivery. Thanks for sharing this - this was excellent.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:28 PM on August 31, 2018


I don't really understand why disabled people need *plastic* straws. Is there a specific thing about plastic, versus paper, metal, glass or any of the other things people make straws out of, that is necessary for a specific disability.

This is not snark, I actually want to know.
posted by Toddles at 11:00 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm sure there's more aspects, but I've heard cost of replacements, need to wash, safety if you bite down hard on them, some flexibility, ability to carry hot liquids and not turning into a soggy mess as all being relevant factors, depending on people's needs.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 11:21 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


Seniors in nursing facilities also use plastic straws as they might have limited motor function or may not be able to sit upright.
posted by greatalleycat at 11:28 PM on August 31, 2018


I don't really understand why disabled people need *plastic* straws. Is there a specific thing about plastic, versus paper, metal, glass or any of the other things people make straws out of, that is necessary for a specific disability.

Someone did a nice chart of the various strengths and weaknesses of other materials versus plastic, but a quick google isn't turning it up for me. Remember, people with many different types of disabilities use straws, so what might be an okay substitute for one person might not be for another.

Another way to look at this might be: do you think that disabled people are dumb and/or making it up when they say that plastic straws in particular are necessary to them?
posted by praemunire at 1:29 AM on September 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


I believe the issue is that there are bendable plastic straws but not paper straws. The bending makes it a lot easier to drink from.

I have the the feeling that numerous people are trying to develop biodegradable sturdy and bendable straws at this moment.
posted by ShooBoo at 3:26 AM on September 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have the the feeling that numerous people are trying to develop biodegradable sturdy and bendable straws at this moment.

Nat Geo had a good overview. Paper bendy straws used to exist. Hospitals loved them. You know, cause you didn't have to sit up to drink.
posted by mikelieman at 4:23 AM on September 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was in a Starbucks and they had a sign that offered a plastic hot drink lid as an option if you didn't want a straw for your iced drink. Is the hot drink lid not made of plastic? does it magically not end up in the ocean? Are they harder for turtles to impale themselves on?
posted by vespabelle at 11:14 AM on September 1, 2018


Those who find their quality of life improved by plastic (ideally reusible) straws should have them available. The rest of us can use something else, right?
posted by BlueHorse at 9:49 PM on September 1, 2018


A bar I've been to which has recently changed it's policy has stopped giving you a new straw with every drink, straws are no longer given by default, but are easily available in holders on accessible surfaces.

I don't know if it's ideal, but it's a simple enough compromise and I expect it's being repeated widely.
There's nothing wrong that I'm aware with such changes, and you could definitely ask for a straw in your drink. As I understand things, the concern is not so much with reductions in waste, but barriers and lack of availability at all. There's no need that I see for legislative changes or more drastic action. Effective solutions that replicate all functionality but are actually better environmentally, including production costs in carbon etc are not what I think people are unhappy about. If they're below the bar and forgotten and servers reluctant to or judgey about distributing them, that would be problematic.

My criticism is not about some love for wastage and disposable plastic, but barriers for those in need and distraction from actually significant changes. Cut down a bit, sure, but don't trick yourself into thinking it'll make noticeable dent in anything, and don't harm people in doing so.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 2:17 AM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


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