Activist have in recent years mounted an international campaign to stigmatize and ban plastic straws, leading to a proliferation of “eco-friendly” alternatives.
The growing popularity of paper and metal straws may save a few sea turtles, and very marginally reduce ocean pollution. But one such straw has cost a woman her life.
According to testimony in English court on Monday, Elena Struthers-Gardner, 60, a retired jokey, fell onto a stainless steel straw she was drinking from at her home in Dorset last November, causing the 10-inch tube to pierce her eye and lodge in her brain. She has been carrying the straw in a mason jar glass with a screw-top lip when she collapsed.
Struthers-Gardner’s wife, Mandy Struthers-Gardner, recounted in a statement read to the court how she found the deceased face-down in the kitchen doorway.
“She was making unusual gurgling sounds. Her glass cup was lying on the floor still intact and the straw was still in the jar,” Struthers-Gardner said. “I noticed the straw was sticking into her head. I called 999 and requested an ambulance.”
The widow continued: “While I was on the phone, Elena appeared to have stopped breathing. The lady on the phone asked me to turn her over. I slid the glass off the straw and turned her over. I could see the straw had gone through her left eye.”
Medics rushed Elena Struthers-Gardner to the hospital, but she died the next day.
Time to for a metal straw ban?
The coroner who examined her body, Dr. David Parham, told the court that the cause of a death was a traumatic brain injury. He said that metal drinking straws should never been combined with a lid that holds them in place and “great care should be taken” while using them.
“There is no give in them at all,” he said. “If someone does fall on one and it’s pointed in the wrong direction, serious injury can occur.”
Struthers-Gardner’s brother, Robin Struthers, called for Parham to comment on how easily people can purchase metal straws.
‘These straws can very easily be lethal,” he warned.
Mandy Struthers-Gardner added: “I just feel that in the hands of mobility challenged people like Elena, or children, or even able-bodied people losing their footing, these things are so long and very strong. Even if they don’t end a life they can be very dangerous.”
The court also heard that the Elena Struthers-Gardner had mobility issues and severe chronic pain resulting from a horse riding accident when she was 21 years old, and was prone to falling over. She had become an alcoholic following reductions in the dosage of her fentanyl pain medication. In the months leading up to her death, she was drinking about half a liter of vodka mixed with orange juice every day. She sipped the cocktail from the mason jar cup using the metal straw, which was a birthday gift.
However, assistant coroner Brendan Allen said that he found no alcohol in Struthers-Gardner’s urine. Nor could he attribute her fall to a reduction in fentanyl.
Plastic straws suck!
According to the Metro tabloid, the metal-straws trend in the United Kingdom was kickstarted by the popular 2001 British TV series “The Blue Planet,” which was narrated by David Attenborough and highlighted the issue of plastic build-up in the oceans. Footage of people removing plastic straws from the nostrils of sea turtles – like a 2015 viral video starring marine biologist Christine Figgener – have helped the cause.
Meanwhile, in the United States, environmentalists and celebrities have successfully pushed a number of municipalities to ban plastic straws. California last year passed the first statewide ban on restaurants providing a plastic straw unless a customer explicitly requests one. State legislators in Colorado and Florida this year proposed similar bans.
However, critics of anti-plastic straw activism have pointed out that developed countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom, actually contribute a tiny fraction of the world’s overall plastic pollution, with straws being a minor contributor therefor. And anyway, alternatives to plastic straws can prove more wasteful.
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