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CNN claims that Americans use 500 million straws per day.

Every day, Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws, enough to circle the Earth twice, or fill 125 school buses.

Other sources claim this too (ex1, ex2, ex3). Most seem to have a root source of a Ecocycle.org report:

Did you know that each day we use 500 million straws--enough disposable straws to fill over 46,400 large school buses per year?

However, another article points out that this report was done by a then 9 year old via a phone survey

Eco-Cycle is unable to provide any data to back up this number, telling Reason that it was relying on the research of one Milo Cress. Cress—whose Be Straw Free Campaign is hosted on Eco-Cycle's website—tells Reason that he arrived at the 500 million straws a day figure from phone surveys he conducted of straw manufacturers in 2011, when he was just 9 years old.

This hardly seems scientific or reliable. Are there any other more reputable sources that can confirm if Americans use 500 million straws per day?

  • 9
    I wonder if the definition of straw includes hollow plastic coffee stirrers - that could easily account for a big chunk of it. – Mark Jan 28 '18 at 2:41
  • 11
    well, they definitely need some to build all those strawmen... – Federico Jan 29 '18 at 15:13
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    @WakeDemons3 Milo the 9 year old is still the principle investigator for Eco-cycle's website about straw usage. Milo is a few years older now, but Eco-cycle describes his continued activities as the lead surveyor of straw usage here ecocycle.org/bestrawfree/about – Ellie Kesselman Jan 30 '18 at 13:24
  • 2
    And I also suggest we don't call this a "study" (as some articles did), because it was not published in a peer-reviewed journal and we don't have access to the protocol and data. – Samuel Churlaud Jan 31 '18 at 4:45
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    The US population is about 320M. This would mean every man, woman, and child would have to discard ~1.6 straws per day; or that half the population uses more than 3 per day. I suspect data padding/manipulation going on. – JYelton Feb 2 '18 at 18:45
6

We have this from 2010:

https://www.manufacturing.net/news/2010/12/va-plant-produces-4b-drinking-straws-annually

(Facts as of print time for the article.) There's a plant in VA that produces annually about 4 billion of the little plastic bendy straws that come with juice boxes. It has more than 80% of the US market for bendy straws, and also exports to a number of other (smaller) countries. This is the sort of source that's highly likely to be both accurate and non-falsified, or at least not heavily falsified. It's a bit of a puff piece, so they may have tweaked the numbers a bit to make people feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it's not being driven by the sort of political agenda that's prone to occasional wild inaccuracies. The numbers coming out of it are pretty fuzzy, in both directions, but they're also interesting.

Note: this is currently a partial answer. It covered more ground previously, but we determined that one of the sources was not reliable, and that portion was removed.

  • The 80% is only of the small straws that come with prepackaged beverage cartoons, like juices boxes. Also the article says "The company supplies the straws that are sold with those cartons, and it has more than 80 percent of the market share in the U.S.". The one plant produces 4 billion straws, but the whole company supplied 80% of the cartoons in the US. "Tetra Pak produces more than 141 billion packages [a year as of 2008]" tetrapak.com/about/history – DavePhD Jul 19 '18 at 12:06
2

According to The Green Book (2007):

Each year, Americans throw away 138 billion straws and stirrers

So, if coffee stirrers are included, that is 378 million per day.

A 29 May 1924 Pulp and Paper Magazine of Canada article says:

No other country, it is stated, can compete with the United States in the manufacture of artificial straws, and no other country uses so many. The United States taught the foreigners the use of them and today the market is world-wide. The total annual production of drinking straws is said to be about four billion. The increased demand for the straws is ascribed to the spread of the so-called "Yankee mania for sanitation," which has resulted in a remarkable decrease in epidemic diseases.

A 1949 Steel Facts article says:

10 billion drinking straws are made in this country each year

  • 1
    Looks like The Green Book is copyright 2007, and may be a touch out of date. Beyond that, though, do we have any particular reason to believe that it itself is accurate? – Ben Barden Jan 30 '18 at 18:18
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    I'm certainly willing to believe that it's more accurate than extrapolations off of a six-year-old phone survey done by a 9-year-old. I'm just noting the potential limitations on accuracy for these numbers, and asking if what we know of its reliability (if anything). – Ben Barden Jan 30 '18 at 18:28
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    Does the Green Book cite it's sources? Why should I trust it? – BobTheAverage Feb 1 '18 at 19:14
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    @BobTheAverage No. I don't trust it particularly, and neither should you. – DavePhD Feb 1 '18 at 19:20
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    @DavePhD When you cite a half trustworthy source, shouldn't your answer explain that? – BobTheAverage Feb 2 '18 at 0:55

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