We see new trends popping up all the time, and right now, one of the trendiest things in America is the ditching of plastic straws.

Across the country, people are refusing plastic straws with their drinks in favor of reusable wooden and metal or biodegradable paper straws. This movement has become so popular, in fact, that entire states have placed bans on plastic straws for their food service businesses, with the state of Washington being the first to ban them entirely in 2018.

Individual cities and counties in each state are creating their own bans (our very own Prince George’s County banned plastic straws in July 2020) for not just plastic straws but single-use plastics in general, and all in all this looks a considerable victory for environmentalists. However, not everyone is celebrating the success of this movement. There are many people with physical disabilities that rely on disposable, single-use plastics in their daily lives. Total bans on single-use plastics may be an environmental ally to able-bodied people, but to those with disabilities they have become yet another inequality within environmental circles.

Most of the problems disabled citizens face within the environmental conservation movement stem from the individual consumer-oriented areas of activism. The ban on single-use plastics isn’t the only thing making participation in the movement inaccessible to disabled people; the discouragement and elimination of elevators, personal vehicles, “fast fashion” and online shopping all support modern day environmental movements while simultaneously harming modern day disabled citizens.

Most of the solutions created by today’s younger and generally more environmentally conscious citizens are only applicable to able-bodied, neurotypical, financially stable and well-educated individuals, so can we really call these solutions accessible? Disabled people should under no circumstances face new hardships in order to support environmental conservation while able-bodied people continue on with little to no change in their lifestyle.

There is a very clear and very disproportionate affect individual, consumer-based environmental activism has on the lives of disabled citizens, and it shows a lack of consideration of the human population as a whole. In nearly every aspect of life, able-bodied people are seen as the default and the needs of others are often ignored. We shouldn’t let the environmental movement continue this trend.

So, what are the solutions? If anything, this further supports the need for environmental conservation to be focused more heavily on larger industries and corporations and less on the individual consumer. Shifting the focus of environmental conservation on corporate America eliminates the need for classist and ableist consumer-based movements at such a large scale.

Individuals aren’t the ones clearing forests and dumping toxic waste into waterways, and it most certainly isn’t being done by individuals who are blind or paraplegic, so why are these people facing the harshest consequences to support environmental conservation? All of us should do our part to save the planet, but we shouldn’t make the planet inaccessible to those with disabilities in the process.

Movements such as the discouragement and elimination of plastic straws and single use cutlery, discouraging the use of elevators and personal vehicles, and fast fashion/online shopping disproportionately effect disabled people without providing alternative solutions to provide them with an equal quality of life while simultaneously supporting environmental movements.

Marches, protests and other gathering spaces for discussing environmentalist movements are often both physically and emotionally exclusive of disabled people and often those spearheading the movements fail to consider how environmental activism on an individual consumer level effects people under their baseline of privilege.

Solutions are not genuine solutions if they fail to account for the safety and well-being of marginalized groups such as people with mental and physical disabilities.