ENVIRONMENT

Woman Dies After Accidentally Impaling Herself With Metal Straw

Some activists have touted reusable straws as eco-friendly, but many people in the disability community say plastic straw bans compromise their civil rights.

A British woman died when she fell onto her reusable straw, a coroner said in an inquest this week that highlighted the possible dangers of metal straws, The New York Times reported.

Elena Struthers-Gardner, 60, who had a disability, was carrying a mason-jar style drinking glass with a screw-top in her home in Broadstone, England, in November 2018 when she collapsed.

The 10-inch stainless-steel straw penetrated her left eye and pierced her brain, according to the coroner’s report released on Monday, which called the death an accident.

Eco-friendly reusable straws come in varieties such as paper, metal and bamboo.
Eco-friendly reusable straws come in varieties such as paper, metal and bamboo.

Brendan Allen, an assistant coroner, told The Bournemouth Daily Echo that the lid on Struthers-Gardner’s glass led to the fatality.

“It seems to me these metal straws should not be used with any form of lid that holds them in place,” he said. “It seems the main problem here is if the lid hadn’t been in place, the straw would have moved away.”

Struthers-Gardner’s wife, Mandy, said in a statement read at the inquest that her partner was a former jockey who fell often due to a former horseback riding injury. Struthers-Gardner also had scoliosis and substance abuse issues, according to her wife.

Plastic straw bans have increased in popularity, especially since a 2015 video of a sea turtle having a plastic straw removed from its nose went incredibly viral. Last year, the ban gained momentum when Starbucks announced its plan to eliminate its green plastic straws from all its stores in 2020.

And despite the coffee chain recalling stainless steel straws it sold in its stores after it was reported that a few children were lacerated from them in 2016, the eco-friendly movement calling for reusable straws has only become more popular — especially as the Trump administration continues implementing policies that are devastating to the environment.

In 2018, Seattle became the first major city in the U.S. to ban plastic straws and utensils. Last September, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the first state law barring dine-in restaurants from providing plastic straws unless customers request them.

Yet, disability activists have pushed back against the plastic straw bans, arguing that many people with disabilities need the plastic straws to drink and that eliminating them compromises their civil rights.

“I have used plastic straws my entire life because I cannot pick up a cup,” Robyn Powell, a disability rights activist and attorney wrote in an opinion column for HuffPost last year. “Without straws, I am unable to drink anything independently. Straws may be a luxury for some people, but for me, they are a necessity.”

Powell also mentions that she cares deeply about the environment and uses reusable straws at home, but needs the plastic variety when she visits restaurants or public establishments.

 “… As more and more cities and states seek to ban them, I’ve gotten concerned about the unintended consequences these bans will have on people with disabilities,” Powell wrote. “How will I drink if straws are no longer available?”

Alice Wong, a disability activist, also wrote about the dilemma for Eater, noting that people with disabilities already face a number of obstacles while attempting to dine out, including inaccessibility and ableism, or discrimination against those who are disabled.

“People have told me to bring my own reusable straws without thinking about the extra work that entails,” Wong wrote. “Why would a disabled customer have to bring something in order to drink while non-disabled people have the convenience and ability to use what is provided for free?”

Wong added:

“This is the experience of living in a world that was never built for you: having to explain and defend yourself while providing infinite amounts of labor at the demand of people who do not recognize their nondisabled privilege.”

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