I am frequently given the message that I waste resources by being disabled. Healthcare is treated as a luxury in this country (USA). Welfare recipients are vilified by politicians and the media. When social security gets cut, some older folks rant about how all the money they paid in got wasted. My social security disability benefits have kept me alive, so I feel bummed when I hear people complaining about what a waste that has been.
In my efforts to earn a bachelor’s degree, the majority of my professors have refused to accommodate me in the ways disability services staff have recommended. One professor even forbade me from advocating for myself in class when other students’ behavior was interfering with my ability to learn and participate. (Interestingly enough, that was the professor that taught me the basics about social justice.)
I definitely internalize and perpetuate these attitudes toward myself. I consistently treat others’ needs as more important than mine. When I do jobs for money, I pay myself less than minimum wage because I know I don’t work as quickly as other people do. I have a hard time feeling like I have any value when I’m not doing lots of volunteer work.
I love the Earth and I am passionate about reducing litter and waste. I’ve been picking up litter in various places for about seven years. I buy bulk and bring my own containers and bags. I bring my own dishes to events with disposable dishes. I always try to have a water bottle with me.
In the past year or so, I’ve come to realize that my passion for waste reduction has become entangled with my internalized ableism. When I don’t feel worthy of having my basic needs met, I frame it as a waste issue. If I am hungry but I can’t prepare food from scratch today, is it OK to produce plastic waste by eating prepackaged food? If I forgot my water bottle at home, is it OK to buy a bottle of water to stay hydrated during a meeting? If I forgot my coffee cup at home because I was so drowsy from my meds, is it OK to get coffee in a disposable cup to help me wake up?
People who love me would probably answer any of these questions with, “Yes! And remember, you still produce way less trash than most people.” I’ve been working on being more gentle with myself about these things.
A month or two ago, I saw an article about how banning plastic straws disadvantages disabled people. It turns out that compostable straws disintegrate in hot liquids. Before reading the article, I hadn’t considered this issue because most of us don’t use straws with hot drinks. But people who need to use a straw to drink want to enjoy a hot beverage sometimes, and common alternatives to polystyrene don’t work well for this. Compostable straws melt, and stainless steel or glass straws conduct heat, thus increasing the risk of burns.
When I ask myself if I should be allowed to get a coffee even if I forgot my cup at home, I really want to be able to say yes. But when I think about this, I can’t help but also consider the people who need a straw to drink their coffee. If they forget their titanium or silicone straw at home, should they still be allowed to drink coffee at a restaurant? I’m worried that plastic straw bans are legislatively answering, “No!”
I am very concerned about plastic waste, and straw overuse is a significant part of the problem. However, I am not comfortable with a proposed solution that has the greatest negative impact on a marginalized group of people.