The move away from plastic drinking straws to paper has sparked one of the most bizarre complaints registered with a UK company.
The incident occurred in London, reports commercial waste services company BusinessWaste.co.uk, when a man in his 20s approached one of its refuse operators to bemoan the fact that paper straws cause too much wastage for cocaine users.
He was annoyed that plastic straws are now being demonised. Plastic, it seems, is not to be sniffed at in his estimation. Or should that read … is to be sniffed at?
Mark Hall, a spokesman for the Yorkshire-based company, said: “Some guy came up to one of our refuse operators and gave him the whole nine yards about how recycling and saving the oceans is messing up his drug habit. Our guy couldn’t believe his ears.”
But while this little slice of somebody’s misspent life may seem amusing to some, the dash for paper straws does leave genuine concerns, especially for disabled people, Hall says.
“Our operator was told that paper straws ‘are useless for cocaine’ given – apparently – they collapse under the strain before the user satisfied.
“I might as well give up, I’m losing a fortune in white stuff,” we were told.
“Our operator pointed the complainant to the local police station if he wished to take the matter further. Unsurprisingly, we have heard nothing since”, says Hall, “but we’ve got nothing but praise for our employee’s calm, patience and exemplary customer support.”
However, Hall says, there is a (more sensible) point to make about paper straws – namely, they’re not the solution for the current problem and millions are not yet recyclable.
There’s been a lot of press about the poor performance of paper straws, and some of it is entirely justified says BusinessWaste.
For example, the coating that’s on millions and millions of them is unsuitable for recycling, and the best method of disposing of them is either through incineration or landfill. And the last thing we want is even more rubbish buried in holes in the ground,” says Hall.
The complaints that they’re of no use to the millions of people who like a fast-food restaurant milkshake are also borne out by personal experience.
“The straws give up halfway down the cup,” says Hall. “You’re better off with a spoon. Seriously, I hope that a truly recyclable straw of sufficient structural integrity is on the way soon. It will be a genuine step forward in removing tons of waste from the system.”
Why disabled people still need plastic straws
While most of us are complaining about how poor-performing paper straws are bringing about the downfall of our civilisation, there’s one voice that’s being drowned out.
There are significant numbers of disabled people who find paper straws difficult to use, and only a more rigid plastic straw will suffice in a drink.
With plastic straws being harder to find in pubs, bars and restaurants, it’s making life difficult for people who find it difficult to drink without one.
Paralympic gold medallist and disabled rights advocate Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson feels strongly about this and tweeted: “What upsets me is the number of people who demand the ban on straws, but with no understanding of why they’re needed. And the assumption is that we hate the environment. It’s not all disabled people’s fault.
“This is not life or death, but if plastic straws are not available it could cause lots of medical issues.”
While metal straws aren’t great for hot drinks, and paper straws collapse too easily, not enough is being done to ensure that people who still need plastic straws can find them.
The alternative, Baroness Grey-Thompson said in a television appearance last year, is that disabled people just won’t socialise or leave the house, and that’s even more expensive in human terms.
“Let’s use some common sense here,” says BusinessWaste’s Hall. “For some folk, the issue is far more important than people think.”