Consider the needs of the disabled too when banning plastic straws

I am heartened to see businesses in the food industry making an effort to cut single-use plastics in Singapore, starting with straws (KFC to go straw-free, cut use of plastic lids, June 19; and RWS stops providing single-use plastic straws at attractions, eateries, Oct 30).

In a bid to conserve the environment, businesses have been jumping on the bandwagon to ban straws from their outlets and researching for more biodegradable replacement options.

However, in so doing, we may accidentally neglect the needs of the elderly, the disabled and children who may need plastic straws to consume their drinks.

I came across blogs and articles chronicling the struggles of the disabled in other countries who are unable to find straws in their favourite outlets and are made to feel guilty for using straws. Due to their physical conditions, they are unable to lift a cup to their mouth or drink straight from a cup, and thus need to use a straw.

The disabled are unable to use most of the alternative straw options as these may pose safety risks to them.

Some disabled and even the elderly can take more time to consume their drinks, and paper straws may disintegrate, which serve as a potential choking risk. Also, inflexible metal straws are unsuitable for those with mobility-related impairment.

The community should be more understanding when they see someone using straws in a no-straw outlet. There may be a good reasonbehind it. We can grow to be both an empathetic and environmentally friendly community.

Instead of a complete ban of straws, I suggest businesses be more accommodating towards these groups of people and still provide plastic straws on request until a suitable alternative is created for them.

Businesses should also educate their staff on the reasons behind providing straws on request so that they are able to respond to customers appropriately.

Ng Kuan Mei (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2018, with the headline 'Consider the needs of the disabled too when banning plastic straws'. Print Edition | Subscribe