Which straw reigns supreme? A semi-definitive ranking

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by Halsey Blocher |

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Who would’ve thought that something as mundane as straws could become a hot topic? Yet in recent years, they’ve been featured in countless news stories, sparked debate, and been targeted by well-meaning environmental movements.

I like to think I know a few things about straws. I’ve been utilizing them daily to drink smoothies and other frozen beverages for most of my life. While I’m dependent on my feeding tube for nutrition and hydration, I still enjoy sipping my favorite drinks, which wouldn’t be possible without a reliable straw.

At this point, I’ve tried and assessed most of the popular straw options. For me, there’s no question about which straw reigns supreme.

But I’m just one person, and not everyone will share my preferences regarding straws or anything else. As such, there can be no truly definitive straw ranking. Instead, I can only offer you the opinions I’ve developed from personal experience.

So, without further ado, following is my mostly unbiased assessment of straw supremacy.

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Reusable is risky

In the wake of global criticism and bans on single-use plastics, reusable straws have become increasingly popular in multiple materials. If the problem is waste, the solution must be to make something reusable, right?

It’s a good idea in theory and might work well for able-bodied people. For people in the SMA and disability communities, however, most reusable straws pose challenges. They may even be risky.

One potential risk of reusable straws is infection if they aren’t properly sanitized. That dark, narrow tube is an ideal place for bacteria to hide and grow. Ingesting bad bacteria could be harmful to anyone, but infections can be especially difficult for people with SMA and other rare diseases to fight off.

I also can’t help but notice that medical supplies with similar tubular shapes, including some feeding tube supplies, are usually intended for single use due to sanitary reasons.

Additionally, there’s evidence that in rare cases, reusable straws could be dangerous. The New York Times reported in 2019 that a disabled woman died after she fell while carrying a glass with a metal straw, which stabbed her and resulted in a deadly traumatic brain injury. The tragic accident prompted several medical professionals to warn against the potential risks of using these types of straws.

All of these possible risks to my health and safety make me think this isn’t the best option for me.

The perils of paper

Paper straws are another popular option. They seem safer than reusable straws, and they’re still environmentally friendly. Both factors earn points in my book.

Yet they still don’t quite provide what I need from a straw. While their quick disintegration time is great for the environment, it’s terrible for disabled people who tend to require extra time to finish a drink.

In a column for ALS News Today, Dagmar Munn writes, “These may be just fine for folks who take five or 10 minutes to polish off their lattes. But because ALS slows everything down, the time to drink my morning coffee extends to about 30 minutes.”

I understand Dagmar’s dilemma. Finishing a drink too quickly would fatigue my already atrophied throat muscles. Plus, if my bladder fills too quickly, I could find myself in a serious predicament if I’m away from my accessible bathroom and custom toilet chair.

As a result, I often take several hours to finish a drink, slowly sipping it throughout the day and returning it to the fridge to chill for extended periods. But paper straws can’t endure for that long.

Former SMA News Today columnist Kala Godin has also written about the perils of paper straws. In a column titled “Preparing for the Plastic Apocalypse,” she notes that when they fall apart, the tiny pieces of paper actually become choking hazards.

This doesn’t seem like the right option for me, either.

Plastic is perfect

You knew this is where we were headed, didn’t you?

Plastic straws aren’t the best for the environment, but they do appear to reign supreme for people with disabilities — or at least for me. They eliminate sanitation concerns, they’re not overly rigid, and they don’t fall apart. They’re also the only option that doesn’t taste strange.

Bendy straws are especially useful since they allow for easy beverage positioning without creating messy spills. And it’s undeniably fun to twist the corrugated section into cool squiggles or shapes. They’re exactly what many of us need.

Disabled people want to be eco-friendly. We just can’t sometimes because our medical needs won’t allow it. We genuinely need plastic as much as turtles need clean water.

Instead of choosing between the environment and accessibility, let’s try to prioritize both and find out what that beautiful world might look like.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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