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What are the alternatives to plastic straws?

plastic waste including plastic straws and plastic bottles on a beach

What are the alternatives to plastic straws for disabled people and should you make a switch?

It won’t have escaped your attention that plastic straws have been in the headlines throughout 2018. With the seas full of plastic particles, and sea life choking to death around the world on the discarded remains of our consumer culture, attention has moved on from plastic carrier bags and onto the humble drinking straw. In England alone it is estimated that some 4.6 billion of them are disposed of each year. Ahead of EU legislation coming into effect, they are likely to be banned – and some major food retailers, including the likes of McDonald’s and Starbucks, have already announced their intention to stop using single use plastic straws in favour of biodegradable cardboard.

This is great news for sea life, but potentially much worse news for many disabled people, for whom the alternatives are not always practical – and in some cases actively dangerous.

For example, metal straws are often touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to single use plastic straws, as they can be cleaned for re-use over and over. However, many people live with conditions that render them impractical. Anyone suffering from a condition where seizures are a potential problem – such as epilepsy – are at risk of damage to their mouths from stainless steel metal straws, for example.  Glass straws are also available and whilst they may be better for ensuring that they are clean on reuse, they may break and cause injury and are not recommended. Moreover, metal and paper straws alike are not flexible, which is a major problem for people with mobility or posture issues.

Then there are the basic issues of hygiene. It is very well to say that straws are ‘reusable’ but that reuse must follow washing. For people caring for someone reliant on semi-solid foods, washing something as fiddly as a straw is not necessarily an easy job.

plastic straws

The biodegradable alternatives such as paper straws also pose a set of problems: even for non-disabled users, it is easy for the straw to turn to mush if a drink isn’t drunk quickly enough, or if chewed a little too much. For disabled users who may take a little longer to drink or who may have dexterity problems, this issue is magnified. The side effects might not be severe in themselves, but there is trouble enough eating through a straw as it is, without the added problem of finding it blocked or turning to pulp in your mouth.

It is true that alternatives are available – such as these silicon straws, which offer flexibility and safety – but they also cost a relatively large sum, and while on paper they are infinitely rewashable, we all know that in real life keeping specialist equipment clean isn’t easy and real world lifespans are not often as advertised.

Other specialist straws

There are other specialist products for other conditions – such as straws with one-way valves . One way valve straws allow you to suck and stop without losing the air pressure that keeps the liquid in the straw and are therefore useful for people who cannot suck very strongly or consistently. (We have discussed these before on a previous post). These are often plastic anyway and whether they will be exempt from a future ban is yet to be known. They carry an even greater price overhead, and come with the same issues around hygiene as the alternatives.

The argument for disabled people continuing to use plastic straws

To put things in perspective, the price of a single pack of silicon straws would be enough to buy almost two thousand single use plastic straws. Would those same pack of silicon straws last for 2000 meals and drinks? Maybe, but perhaps not…..

Perhaps the best way to consider this analogy would be rubber gloves. While it is possible to buy well-made, washable and reusable gloves, almost all healthcare now involved single use rubber or plastic gloves, for all the same reasons: they offer the best balance of hygiene and convenience. Yet in the current climate of panic, nobody seems to be suggesting that healthcare professionals stop using them.

We are all on the same side in wanting a solution to end plastic pollution in the oceans, but that cannot come at any cost. The dignity and safety of disabled people must still be considered, and in the rush towards a blanket ban it is important not to lose sight of these basic human needs and the large, often unheard, minority of disabled people for whom they are small part of living with dignity and independence.

screen shot of BBC website with Tanni in front of the Houses of Parliament and a headline "Plastic Straw ban disadvantages disabled people, says paralympian"

Baroness Thompson on the BBC news when a ban was proposed.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thomson spoke out when a ban was discussed in the UK :

“Disabled people will be seriously disadvantaged if we can’t find a proper alternative”.

Should you stock up?

A ban on plastic straws of some sorts looks increasingly likely. It’s unlikely that you will never be able to get them from anywhere, but if a ban does come into force you might struggle to get hold of them for a while. We’d certainly recommend considering stocking up if that would impact your life  – especially when you can bulk hundreds (or even thousands) for relatively little money.

Other Alternatives

Our friends at http://sturdystraw.co.uk/ sell a fantastic range of hygienic, bendable rubber straws – along with other accessories.

A man in a wheelchair showing a bottle with a plastic straw attached and the straw in a place he can reach it easily.

Mark developed sturdy straw and sells it from his website. It is position-able with a bendable rod and has accessories to make it work for you.

Another great thing to check out is the Hydrant drinking system – which comes with hanging clips and a bite valve to make drinking that bit easier.

 

On a final note, one thing you should not feel is guilty if your situation requires you to use plastic straws. While the issue is a big deal in the media, there has to be recognition of the role that plastic straws play in the lives of many disabled people, and that other problems – such as disposable water bottles, non-recyclable packaging are far bigger in scale without attracting anything like the attention.

Many of us use disposable medical equipment in our daily lives because there isn’t a practical reusable alternative in that situation, I would argue that disabled people using plastic straws should be considered in the same way.

This video explains the whole issue (and is awesome!)

Stay Cool – Keep Cool Gadgets & Ideas for keeping down the Temperature

Stay Cool – gadgets and ideas for keeping down the temperature

Girl in a fountain drinks

Keeping cool and hydrated isn’t always this easy! Photo credit: http://www.balthasars.com/family/aug_03c.html

Keeping cool in warmer climes can be hard. Humans can regulate their own temperatures but when it’s really hot – we feel it! This can be even more of a problem when living with a disability, particularly one where you’re required to use a wheelchair or spend a lot of time sitting or lying down.

There are plenty of keep cool gadgets and common sense tips which can make getting out and about in the sun less stressful. Below we’ve collated our favourite products and some handy hints to keep in mind.

The Danger of Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

Just looking at the NHS information about these conditions shows how dangerous they can be. They can escalate quickly if not treated immediately. More than anything else they are completely preventable. Heatstroke is the more serious of the two conditions and can lead to severe complications including organ failure. Death is completely possible from severe heatstroke.

There are groups who are particularly at risk from heat stroke and exhaustion and they include the usual suspects such as young children and the elderly but also people who live with conditions which effect the kidneys, heart or circulatory system. Many disabilities make regulating body temperature more difficult and also specific medications such as beta blockers and antipsychotic drugs can make it harder for your body to fight heatstroke and exhaustion. Where these conditions are combined with sunburn, it can be very painful and distressing.

Keep Cool Gadgets and Products

Here we are looking at some of the most useful keep cool gadgets on the market.

Image of plastic helmet hats with holsters on the sides for holding cans of drink.

Click this image for more drinking aids – serious ones!

Drinking

When it’s super-hot it’s important to stay hydrated and your number one friend here is The Hydrant . Even if you have limited use of your limbs or can’t hold a cup comfortable your Hydrant can be clipped somewhere safe and you can access it through the straw. There are plenty more drinking aids available which we’ve talked about before.

Clothing

Coolvest - Keep Cool Gadget

Coolvest – Keep your Body Temp Down

There are specially designed items for keeping cool from specially designed scarves which are activated by soaking in water to these innovative Coolvests. Coolvests have been proven to regulate the body temperature which makes independent living easier. Coolvests have also been proven to be particularly beneficial to people living with Multiple Sclerosis who can find warmer temperatures particularly intolerable.

General tips to keep in mind when dressing for hotter weather include keeping an eye on the fit of clothes. Tight fitting clothes will become uncomfortable more quickly. Hats and breathable shoes should also be worn at all times to give air the chance to circulate and to protect your head from the heat. Clothes that are light in colour are also more likely to be comfortable as they naturally deflect the sun’s rays.

Fans and AirCon

Air Con Keep Cool Gadget

Trendy Portable Air Con Systems

One of the most obvious options for keeping cool is through fans and air conditioners. There are a range of different air conditioners and fans on the market including USB Hand Held Air Conditioner and Fans. A personal fan or air conditioner can provide instant relief from the sun’s rays and portable versions can be stored easily in a bag out of the way without being too inconvenient and large.

 

 

 

General Tips for Keeping Cool

The things we discuss below may seem like common sense but a little reminder never hurt anybody and there are a couple of ingenious tips you may not have thought of.

Stay out of the Heat

Image of a brown-haired toddler in a sunny garden, drinking from a cup using a straw

Uniflow straws make drinking easier – click this image for details.

It’s been said time and again – nobody should be out in the sun, if they can help it, when it’s at its hottest. Everyone should try and limit their sun exposure between 10am and 4pm as that’s when it’s most likely to cause harm.

Make Plans

If you plan ahead then you can have an idea of when you’ll be exposed to the sun and when you won’t. A plan also cuts out the unnecessary time spent out in the heat.

Eat Cool

Making the right food choices can help you keep cool. Raw foods including salads and fruit are best. They keep you hydrated and cool.

Avoiding protein heavy foods and meats is also advisable as they can increase metabolic heat production which can lead to loss of water and in extreme cases dehydration.

Ice Up your Trabasack

Ice-Filled Trabasack Cool Down Gadget

Keep Cool with an Ice-Filled Trabasack

Time and again we’ve expressed our belief in the quality of the lap tray bag range produced by Trabasack. With that in mind we’ve even found a fantastic way of using your Trabasack as a cooling device. Fill with ice! Of course we don’t mean just chuck ice cubes inside but a zip-locked bag of ice can be placed alongside the beanbag cushion. It’s great for keeping you cool and if you don’t want to keep it on your lap – why not use it as a cool cushion (as pictured).

Keep Cool, Keep Safe

Keeping cool in the warmer months is completely essential if you want to make it through the summer without excessive trips to the doctors. Other things to remember whilst out in the sun is to ensure you’re covered in high factor sun cream and drink, drink, drink.

Remember to keep an eye on others too, if you have an elderly neighbour it could be a good time to check in on them and ensure they’re managing in the heat too.

Maybe you have a top gadget or way of keeping cool?

Please add your ideas in the comments. 🙂

Drinking Aids Review Including New handSteady

Drinking aids for Disabled People Reviewed

Drinking aids offer important, everyday assistance to those with health conditions such as tremors, Parkinsons and Cerebral Palsy. There are many innovative yet simple drinking aids available, and the newest one on the market is “handSteady”.

The handSteady drinking aid is a drinks cup with a rotatable handle. Even though many everyday items have evolved in terms of design, it would seem that the humble cup has remained the same for centuries. Although many people find drinking from a normal cup easy, if you suffer from dexterity issues, tremors, weakness or muscle pain you will find that fixed-handled cups can cause pain and other difficulties.

Creating the handSteady Drinking Aid

drinking aids for the elderly, Chris Peacock stood infront of a brick wall, holding his handSteady cup and its box.

The handSteady drinking aid was created by Chris Peacock

The handSteady drinking aid was created by Chris Peacock, an inventor and Physics graduate from Southampton. After one of his closest family members had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, they found that it affected their ability to drink. It was at this point that Chris looked around for options for Parkinson’s drinking aids to no avail, and he knew he should use his creative talents to fill this much neglected gap in the market.

Designing a new adaptive drinking aid

Chris started upon a post-graduate Masters in Industrial Design Engineering, and decided to base his studies on creating a new drinking aid for not only his relative, but millions of others in need of extra help with drinking.

Chris’ project garnered support from a number of influential and acclaimed innovations institutions, including a Dyson Scholarship, a Kenny Yip Award and an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Scholarship.

The result of Chris’ hard work, innovative thinking and scholarly support was the new handSteady drinking aid.

How Does the handSteady Work?

Often the most simple of ideas can revolutionise the world, and the handSteady is set to do just that. The handle of the handSteady cup is rotatable. This means that instead of having to hold a cup at an uncomfortable angle, the handle can be tilted to suit your specific needs.

The handSteady cup self-levels and will stay upright until you’re ready to drink, no matter what angle you hold it at. You do not have to twist your wrist to bring the cup to your mouth helping to

geriatric drinking aids infographic showing a hand holding the handSteady cup with information about how it works.

The handSteady drinking aid stays upright, is easy to tilt and always keeps steady.

reduce pain. Other everyday cups force the user to keep the cup in an upright position, and if you suffer from tremors or muscle weakness or rigidity, this can often mean that spillage can occur very easily.

With the handSteady drinking aid cup, you no longer need to twist and bend your wrist to take a drink. The rotating motion of the handSteady handle means that you do not have to tilt your head backwards, or rely on elbow or wrist action to take a sip of liquid. The cup can be tilted using your other hand, your thumb or simply by using your lips.

The handSteady cup is ideal for those with tremors or hand coordination problems. By rotating the handle 90 degrees, it can be carried whilst walking with a reduced chance of spillage. It also allows for limited elbow movement when moving the cup towards your mouth for a drink. Providing users with the ability to keep their elbows close to their sides whilst drinking can help to eliminate tremors that would otherwise cause drink to spill.

The Benefits of Using a handSteady Cup

Having problems with the simple act of drinking can cause many people to feel embarrassed and self-conscious. Having little control over your movements can cause drink to spill easily, staining clothes and furniture. It is for this reason those with certain health conditions feel anxious about going out with friends and family to drink in public. However, the design of the handSteady provides not only a practical and effective drinking aid, but also a piece of mind for those that use it. The assurance that drinks will no longer spill due to tremors or muscle weakness can provide independence and dignity, whilst providing an easy and comfortable drinking experience.

The handSteady drinking aid is an ideal alternative cup for those with:

  • Tremors
  • Limited Dexterity or Slowness of Movement
  • Swallowing Difficulties
  • Joint or Muscle Pain, Stiffness or Weakness such as Arthritis

 

handSteady’s Innovative and Inclusive Design

medical drinking aids. Image of the handSteady cup with a list of features including 1. Curved Rim, 2. State of the art materials, 3. Rotatable handle, 4. Ergonomic geometry, 5. Double Arc handle

The handSteady uses state of the art materials and design to ensure spillage is at a minimum.

When Chris Peacock designed the handSteady it was to first and foremost serve a purpose and help people to drink easily. However, he was also passionate about creating a product that looked as good as it functioned. The elegant design of the handSteady is based upon the traditional bone china cup many of us use on a daily basis. The innovative materials used to create the handSteady reflect the delicate colouring of bone china and also make it 31% lighter than normal cups. This provides even more ease of use and comfort, especially for those that suffer from muscle weakness or stiffness. The handSteady also boasts a number of other benefits, including a large handle with a guard to prevent hot drinks burning your hands, that is big enough to be held in the “power grip” hold.

The cup also features an ingenious curved rim, that guides liquids to the centre of the mouth when drinking, and ensures liquid returns to the cup to avoid dripping. Each of the handSteady drinking aid cups can hold 250ml of liquid, is insulated to keep drink cooler/warmer for longer, is stain resistant and can be conveniently cleaned in a dish washer.

The new handSteady drinking aid is truly a revolution in everyday design, and solves a number of drinking problems that had yet to be tackled without the use of tubes or straws.

To purchase the fantastic handSteady drinking aid or for more information, visit Chris’ site handsteady.com.

 

Other Drinking Aids Currently Available

Now we’ve covered the new handSteady, let’s take a look at some of the other innovative and practical drinking aids available on the market.

The Hydrant 1 litre with Straw

Image is a photograph of the Hydrant drinks bottle with drinking tube and clip

Created and developed by Mark Moran, the Hydrant is a water / drinks bottle with a twist. This drinking aid is a bottle with a unique one-piece cap/clip/handle that can be secured on to almost any equipment including beds, wheelchairs, bikes and more. The user can drink from the bottle with ease using the drinking tube that fits securely to the Hydrant bottle. Having this ability to drink through a tube means those that are weak or struggle to hold a cup or bottle can simply sip through the straw with ease. Not having to reach for a drink and having the Hydrant by your side helps to keep patients hydrated and comfortable.
Much like the handSteady, the Hydrant provides independence so that the user doesn’t have to rely on asking for help when they need a drink. The Hydrant holds 1 litre of liquid and the drinking tube includes a special bite valve that opens under pressure, allowing the user to drink at a comfortable pace. Once the bite valve is released, the tube closes to avoid leaking and spillage of liquids.
Click here to purchase the Hydrant 1 litre drinks bottle with bite-valve tube.

The DUO Cup Holder

Image of a white mug with the DUO providing a second handle.

Ergonomic DUO can be easily attached to a regular mug or cup.

The basis of the DUO cup holder is that it adds an extra handle to your favourite cup. Making your cup or mug two-handed is ideal for those that struggle to grip and hold a cup using only one handle. Rather than having to purchase new two-handled mugs or cups, you can now transform your favourite everyday cup with the DUO.
The DUO will safely and securely fit around your mug of choice, and the ergonomically shaped handle provides a steady and study grip whilst also protecting your hands from hot drinks. The DUO can also be attached to glasses as well as ceramics, and this ability to adapt drink ware you already own is not only easy to do, but also cost effective in the long term. Click here to purchase the Duo cup holder.

Easi 2 Drink Anti-spillage Drinking Aid Insert

wheelchair drinking aid with ladies hand holding a yellow mug with tea and a Easi 2 Drink aid inside.

The Easi 2 Drink insert restricts wave motion and the tendency for liquid to spill.

The Easi 2 Drink is a white plastic device which can be inserted inside of mugs and glasses to help reduce spillage. It was specifically designed to help those with tremors or coordination problems drink without spilling liquids. The Easi 2 Drink anti-spillage aid can be placed inside any standard sized mug or tumbler, and the unique shape of the device helps to restrict the swaying motion of liquids. This in turn helps to avoid spillage for those who struggle to hold a cup steady.
The Easi 2 Drink Anti-Spillage aid can be easily inserted in to any cup, mug or glass and can be removed for cleaning. The handy pocket-size design means you can carry it with you anywhere and easily adapt any drinking vessel without needing to carry a special cup or bottle. The Easi 2 Drink can withstand liquids from 0-100 degrees Celsius and is available to purchase here.

Ornamin Thermo Safe Mug

Image of the blue version of the Ornamin Thermo Safe MugThe Ornamin Thermo Safe Mug is a stylish and modern looking drinking aid that keeps drinks hot or cold for longer. The large, easy to hold handle provides enough room to be held via the “power grip” hand position and is ideal for those with arthritis. The Ornamin Thermo Safe Mug is insulated yet lightweight, and has been designed in a special cone shape which makes drinking easier for those with limited movement of the neck.
The bold, bright body of the mug contrasts with the white rim, which makes it easier for the user to see the top of the mug.
Ornamin Thermo Safe Mugs come in a whole plethora of colours (including yellow, blackberry, petrol and green), and comes equipped with a removable, spouted lid. Each mug can hold up to 140ml of liquid and is microwave safe.

If your drink of choice is usually tea or coffee, check out our previous post about safer alternatives to disposable hot drinks cups.

Strawberi Straw Holder

Image of a red Strawberi straw holder holding a green straw in a glass.

Strawberi is an award winning straw holder that grasps a straw securely against the side of a glass or cup.


Strawberi straw holders are a simple yet ingenious little device that attaches to the side of your glass to keep your straw in place. The Strawberi keeps your straw steady and upright, which means you can drink hands free and not have to worry about the straw moving about. This is ideal for those with tremors or muscle weakness. The Strawberi drinking straw holder can be attached to any type of drinking cup or glass and helps to eliminate any stress or mess that can be caused by trying to keep the straw in the right position.
The Strawberi is also perfect for young children who are learning to suck via a straw and the added bonus is that they are dishwasher safe for extra cleanliness and time-saving.

And finally…Thirst Aid Helmet Drinking Hat!

Image of plastic helmet hats with holsters on the sides for holding cans of drink.

Contemporary style, ultimate functionality – hands-free drinking aid the Thirst Aid Helmet

Or, if none of the innovative and practical drinking aids we’ve mentioned so far take your fancy, why not opt for the classic Thirst Aid Helmet?! Hat AND drinking aid in one, the Thirst Aid Helmet offers multifunctional practicality unrivalled by any other drinks-hat on the market. Hands-free hydration has never been so simple – avoid spillages and unnecessary fumbling for the nearest beverage with your choice of bottle or can firmly attached to your head. The Thirst Aid Helmet allows you to holster either a bottle or can firmly to either side of your head, and once the drinking tubes have been inserted, you are left entirely hands-free for anything you desire. Ideal for sports events, drinking on the go or even relaxing at home, the Thirst Aid Helmet is the ultimate in style and functionality. This may seem like a bit of fun, but hey, if  it works for you then why not?

😉

Please tell us what is your favourite drinking aid in the comments below: