So You Can’t Take Your Reusable Mug To Starbucks Anymore but Why is No One Talking About The Environment Though?

Image Description: A Starbucks disposable cup with a blurry cafe in the background

Starbucks, The Second Cup and Tim Hortons are temporarily discontinuing their practice of allowing customers to bring in their own reusable mugs because the practice is seen as a potential way to spread the corona virus. I have no particular issue with this change in policy but the conversation around it or more accurately the conversation that is not happening is more interesting.

This change is being presented without reference to the reason these stores promoted the option to bring reusable cups in the first place. Reusable mugs are encouraged encouraged because of the desire to cut down on the waste produced by disposable cups.

This is important to consider because it really demonstrates who is valued in the world and whose needs it is necessary to consider while creating policies that have a social impact. For years environmental activists have been waging a war against single use plastics and individually created waste. There was a lot of focus placed on individuals to make personal decisions that reduced their individual waste.

In some cases, particularly regarding single use plastics like straws, people who benefit from them were actively demonized, spoken over, or ignored. This is despite the fact that items like plastic straws are necessary for many disabled people to enable their ability to drink (and no reusable options are not good substitutes, I have already fought you, go away). Items like prepacked precut fruits and vegetables give access and improve the quality of life of many disabled people with dexterity issues (myself included).

When disabled people objected to the demonization and efforts (some successful) to ban these items, we were treated as disposable, as acceptable collateral to the fight for the environment. Yet, here we are in a situation where another environmental endeavour potentially raises the risk to the primarily nondisabled population and suddenly the environmental aspect of why that policy existed in the first place disappears. There is no outcry that the risk of viral spread is an acceptable risk in the fight to save the environment.

Again, I am entirely fine with this change in policy. It is the appropriate response to lower the risk of viral spread. It is however telling that the same consideration is not given when the population at risk of harm is disabled people.

And to be clear rhetoric around the spread and risk of the corona virus is already seriously devaluing disabled people. The risk of a fatal infection of the virus is highest in people who have compromised immune systems. So the risk is greatest for disabled people and the elderly.

Many people are already minimizing the threat of the virus simply because they are not the people at greatest risk. They are treating those that are as inconsequential. This indicates just how othered disabled people are. We are not the people who will be mourned if we are casualties to this virus.

That is why it is so important that the change in policy in major coffee franchises hasn’t included the environmental angle in discussion. It shows very clearly whose needs must be considered when making concessions in discussions of “the greater good” and whose needs can be ignored regardless of the consequences.

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