Global disability coalition calls on Starbucks to lead new straw innovation 

Alasdair Clark

A coalition of disability rights groups has called on Starbucks to support research into a better alternative to plastic straws

AN OPEN LETTER sent to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson calling for research into a better alternative to plastics straws has been supported by a global coalition of disability rights groups representing over half a million people. 

The letter, coordinated by Scottish advocacy group One in Five, has attracted support from every major political party and a host of disability rights groups who represent over 500,000 disabled people across Europe and North America. 

The letter addressed to the CEO of the world’s largest coffee shop chain, says that Starbucks should “lead the way” in developing a new alternative to plastic straws which is environmentally friendly as well as being safe and convenient to use. 

Disabled people expressed concern after a raft of coffee shops and food chains, including Starbucks, said they would be phasing out single-use plastic straws in response to environmental concerns. 

Read More: Supermarkets urged to stop stocking plastic straws

The letter to Johnson explains that alternatives, such as paper or metal straws, pose problems for those with disabilities with paper and plant-based straws often degrading to quickly and metal alternatives acting as heat conductors. 

Announcing the letter, One in Five co-founder, Jamie Szymkowiak, said: “Our letter shows the strength of feeling from disabled people around the world. Starbucks must listen to their customers, including disabled people and environmentalists, and commit to investing in the research and development of a straw that doesn’t harm the environment for future generations and ensures the needs of disabled people are met.”

One in Five co-founder Pam Duncan-Glancy added: “Starbucks have the power to help disabled people and the environment at the same time. Big companies like them can lead and others follow. It’s so important for our human rights that they act now. After all, what is environmental justice without social justice?”

The environmental group Greenpeace also supported the letter. Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “The companies responsible for distributing masses of single-use plastic items have the resources to innovate products which are truly sustainable and fully fit for purpose – suitable for everyone including the disabled community. 

“Straws and other throwaway plastic items, that can’t be easily recycled, must be phased out and replaced with alternatives that don’t harm pollute our oceans and are suitable for everyone. In the meantime, plastic straws should be easily available for those who need them.”

Read More: MSP addresses concerns from disabled rights campaigners over plastic straw ban

Scotland’s leading disability rights group, Inclusion Scotland were another signatory to the letter. Speaking to CommonSpace, Iain Smith, policy and public affairs officer for Inclusion Scotland, said: “Inclusion Scotland welcomes this initiative from One-in-Five. Whilst recognising the need to tackle the scourge of single-use plastics, Inclusion Scotland is concerned that the needs of disabled people are often forgotten.

“For many disabled people, plastic straws are the only realistic way they can enjoy a hot drink. It is incumbent on big business to ensure that a suitable alternative is available for disabled people before removing all plastic straws.”

Politicians from all of Scotland’s major political parties, including the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Scottish Labour, signed the letter. 

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who signed the letter, told CommonSpace: “I applaud Starbucks on its environmental push to reduce waste, but it’s really important that throughout this process the needs of disabled people are listened to and given appropriate consideration. There’s a solution to be reached here, but in the meantime it’s important that plastic straws remain available to those who depend on them.”

A Starbucks representative said that straws would remain available for those who requested them but did not respond to the letter in full by the time of publication.

Picture: Stock 

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