Drinking Straw Ban – Facts and Fiction

The movement to ban drinking straws and other single-use plastics is growing around the world. The ban prohibits restaurants, bars, and other food service businesses from handing out plastic straws to their customers. Some cities impose fines. Other cities are considering the possibility of jail time for repeat offenders.

The humorists have had a field day. (See more Memes at the end of this post.)

In 2017 there were about 63 billion straws used in the United States – about 170-175 million straws per day. (Data from Technomic – a consulting and research firm).

The Be Straw Free Campaign, however, claims that Americans use 500 million plastic straws every day. That’s an average of 1.6 straws per person per day which supposedly is enough to fill over 125 school buses. The 500 million number apparently came from a 9 year old boy who did a telephone survey of some straw manufacturers in 2011. No one bothered to check the validity of that number.

The City of Vancouver recently claimed that Canadians use 57 million straws a year — a number they extrapolated purely by adjusting the 500 million figure for Canada’s population.
National Post, July, 2018 –

Strawless Ocean takes that exaggerated number (500 million) even further by saying:

Plastic straws are really bad for the ocean. We use over 500 million every day in America, and most of those end up in our oceans, polluting the water and killing marine life.

Most of those straws, however, don’t end up in the oceans:

A 2015 study in the journal Science ranked countries by their rate of “mismanaged” waste. Ocean pollution heavyweights such as Bangladesh were mismanaging up to 89 per cent of their garbage. In the United States that rate was only two percent — a number made all the more notable given that the average American generates up to five times more trash than a Bangladeshi.
National Post, July, 2018 –

500 million straws is just one example of estimates gone wild. How many straws do you suppose are discarded on the entire world’s coastlines? To find that number, two Australian scientists used the amount of trash collected on U.S. coastlines during cleanups over five years. They came up with a figure between 437 million and 8.3 billion plastic straws.

In other words, no one really knows to any degree of accuracy how many plastic straws are used, nor how many end up on beaches. They also have no clear idea how many are washed into the ocean, but it is estimated that if all the straws that might be on beaches all washed into the ocean, they’d account for about .03 percent of the plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a given year. Maybe.

What really kicked off the Straw Ban Campaign, though, was a viral video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw in it’s nose. The turtle was the trump card, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The drinking straw ban – a feel good thing that let’s people feel virtuous without actually having to do much.

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