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Plastic Straw Ban Becomes Topic of Debate During CNN Climate Town Hall

New York City, Sept. 4 – For more than a year now, disability advocates have admonished the plastic straw ban, because it is clear the policy was enacted without the involvement of people with disabilities, some of whom need plastic straws to survive. 

During the CNN Climate Town Hall, Sen. Kamala Harris said she supports the plastic straw ban. 

“I think we should, yes,” she said when asked about banning single-use plastic straws. “I’m going to be honest. It’s really difficult out of drink out of a paper straw — like, if you don’t gulp it down immediately, it starts to bend, and then the little thing catches it. So, we got to kind of perfect that one a little bit more.”

She added, “Innovation is a process, right? You don’t just do it. Innovation is a process, but you know, let’s encourage innovation. I think we can do a little bit better than these flimsy plastic straws, but we do need to ban the plastic ones.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, said the controversy around the plastic straw ban is a distraction from the oil and fossil fuel industries.  

“They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers. When 70 percent of the pollution of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air comes from three industries, and we can set our targets and say, by 2028, 2030, and 2035, no more. Think about that. Right there.” 

Likewise, Andrew Yang said banning plastic straws’ impact is too low to spend too much time on. 

“We feel all this pressure to have our micro-impacts be low,” Yang replied to a question about the “biggest personal sacrifice” the American people can make.. “So, you carry a bottle, instead of getting bottled water. You get those really irritating straws, sometimes not of your own choice. You recycle. You compost.”

Yang’s point is that individual actions do not make enough of a change but that collective actions in partnership with the entire world is necessary. 

Many cities have enacted a plastic straw ban, citing environmental reasons. However, this ban affects individuals with disabilities who may need a straw in order to drink – or eat. As Sen. Harris noted, paper straws disintegrate fairly quickly, which can be more than an inconvenience for individuals with disabilities – leading to choking. In addition, people with limited jaw control may bite through paper straws. Other alternatives, such as reusable straws made from metal or silicone may be difficult for individuals with disabilities without enough hand dexterity to keep clean. Further, they often are not flexible, something necessary for people with mobility disabilities. Metal straws also conduct heat and cold, posing additional safety risks. 

Sen. Harris is the first 2020 candidate to announce an exclusive plan for Americans with disabilities and recently unveiled her campaign’s Americans with Disabilities Leadership Council, which “will work closely with my team and me throughout this campaign to take on the issues that are most important to Americans with disabilities.”

Since Sen. Harris has surrounded herself with members of this council, people with disabilities may hope that the Senator – as well as all presidential candidates – seeks their advice on this topic, as well as others. All policy plans – including those focused on education, employment, the environment and others – affect people with disabilities. 

Published in2020 CampaignAndrew YangDemocratsElizabeth WarrenKamala Harris

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