Disability Organisations Unite Against Starbucks’ Plastic Straw Ban

Disability organisations representing over 500,000 disabled people in Europe and North America have thrown their weight behind a letter to Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, coordinated by Scottish disability rights organization One in Five.

In their letter, co-signed by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thomson and political representatives from every major UK political party, One in Five states that Starbucks’ intention to eliminate single-use plastic straws globally by 2020 has caused ‘consider anxiety’ and led to many disabled people feeling excluded by the world’s largest coffee chain.

The campaigners have challenged Starbucks to invest in the research and development of a new straw that will satisfy environmentalists and disabled people.

On release of 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?”

Commenting on release of 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 pollute our oceans and are suitable for everyone. In the meantime, plastic straws should be easily available for those who need them.”

Letter to Kevin Johnson below

One in Five

@oneinfivescot http://www.oneinfive.scot


Notable signatories

One in Five contact: Jamie Szymkowiak +447734392582

Greenpeace contact: Alexandra Sedgwick, Press Officer: alexandra.sedgwick@greenpeace.org


Kevin Johnson
President & CEO
Starbucks Coffee Company
22 August 2018

Dear Mr. Johnson

Plastic Straws for Disabled People

It has been just over one month since your announcement of Starbucks’ intention to eliminate single-use plastic straws globally by 2020[1] caused considerable anxiety among the disabled community. Furthermore, the ambiguous follow-up statement[2] has done little to reduce these concerns and has led to many disabled people feeling excluded by the world’s largest coffee chain.

One in Five have been working since the start of this year to bring the needs of disabled people to the public’s attention in the plastic straw debate. The average plastic straw is cheap, flexible, can be used for drinking cold and hot beverages, and is readily available. For some disabled people these attributes are vital for independent living. It’s worth pointing out that the umbrella of ‘disability’ includes people with different needs and impairments, and that it’s the universal accessibility of the plastic straw that makes so many disabled people anxious about an outright ban.

As you may be aware, most paper and plant-based alternatives are not flexible or suitable for drinks over 40C (104F). Not only does a soggy straw result in a poor customer experience, the deterioration increases the risks of choking, as some of us take longer to drink. Hard straws, made from metal for example, act as heat conductors and present obvious dangers for disabled people who cannot control their bite or who have neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s. Reusable plastic straws present hygiene concerns to people with specific health conditions and can be very difficult to clean.

It’s not acceptable to have straws ‘available on request’ for disabled customers. This is unnecessary gatekeeping that contributes to feelings of guilt for wanting to enjoy – or needing – a drink. Nor is it acceptable for non-disabled people to expect disabled people to carry a straw everywhere we go just in case we get thirsty. Passing yet another cost onto disabled people isn’t suitable if you accept that society bears a responsibility to make the world more accessible for everyone. After all, environmental justice without social justice isn’t justice at all.

Starbucks have a successful track record when it comes to access and disability inclusion: where your organization leads, others follow. Unfortunately the straw debate is no different, as local coffee shops across Europe and North America abandon plastic straws without considering the needs of disabled people. However, you’re in a position to change that.

It is our view that the only solution that will rid our oceans, beaches and parks of unnecessary single-use plastics and meet the needs of disabled people is for organizations such as Starbucks to invest in the research and development of a new straw that is accessible for everyone, including non-disabled people.

Our question is simple. Will you work with us, and disabled people around the world, by committing to sourcing an environmentally friendly solution that meets our needs?

This letter has been co-signed by disabled people’s organizations, disability charities, notable disabled commentators and political representatives from across Europe and North America.

We look forward to your response.


Jamie Szymkowiak and Pam Duncan-Glancy

One in Five



Disabled People’s Organizations & Charities

Center for Disability Rights
Inclusion London
National Disability Rights Network
Glasgow Disability Alliance
Facial Palsy UK
Inclusion Scotland
Ruderman Family Foundation
Raul Krauthausen, Founder of wheelmap.org, on behalf of Ability Watch
Michel Arriens on behalf of BKMF e.V.

Disability Agenda Scotland

  • Action on Hearing Loss Scotland
  • Capability Scotland
  • ENABLE Scotland
  • RNIB Scotland
  • SAMH
  • Sense Scotland

Embla Guðrúnar Ágústsdóttir and Freyja Haraldsdóttir, co-Founders, on behalf of Tabú
Health & Social Care Scotland (The ALLIANCE)
Cumbria Down’s Syndrome Support Group
WOW Campaign
Alice Wong, Founder and Director, Disability Visibility Project
Ian Langtree, Director, on behalf of Disabled World
People First (Scotland)

Notable disability rights activists and political representatives

  • Baroness Tanni Grey Thomson
  • Jeremy Balfour MSP, Conservative Party
  • Johann Lamont MSP, Labour Party
  • George Adam MSP, Scottish National Party (SNP)
  • Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Liberal Democrats
  • Alison Johnstone MSP, Scottish Green Party
  • Míriam Nogueras, VP of the Catalan Democrats (PDeCAT) and MP in the Spanish Congress
  • Robert Gale, Artistic Director, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company
  • Debra Torrance, on behalf of Ungagged
  • Cllr Dennis Robertson
  • Cllr Robert Mooney
  • Sandra Webster, on behalf of the SSP Disability Network
  • Susan Douglas-Scott, Chair of Independent Living Fund

Trade Unions

  • Community
  • Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC)

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