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Bad Stats Are Being Used to Push Straw Bans in Australia, Britain, and Canada

The United States does not have a monopoly on poorly sourced statistics.

John Bolin/Dreamstime.comJohn Bolin/Dreamstime.comThe debate about the environmental impact of plastic straws has gone global, and so have inaccurate and unverified statistics about the little suckers.

The original bad-straw-stat sin was the claim that Americans use 500 million straws a day, a number that popped up in just about every news article, blog post, or government press release on the topic before Reason revealed that its source was a small phone survey by a nine-year-old.

This revelation sparked some mea culpas from National Public Radio, The New York Times, and other outlets that cited it (although the National Park Service, CNN, and San Francisco politicians still use it from time to time), but these sadly came too late to prevent the bad stat from infecting the debate abroad.

When city government employees in Vancouver decided to gauge Canada's use of plastic straws in the run-up to that city's straw ban, they merely imported the 500 million figure and then adjusted it for our northern neighbor's population.

This was only slightly less rigorous than what has been going on in the United Kingdom.

Back in April, when the British government announced plans to prohibit plastic straws, it did so on the basis that that country's citizens use an intolerable 8.5 billion straws a year. Government press releases cite the figure, as do countless environmental groups, and media reports.

Then the BBC investigated. Apparently, the figure comes from the waste management consultancy Eunomia. Eunomia—appropriately named after the Greek goddess of legislation—arrived at this figure by taking the anti-straw group Straw Wars' estimate for how many straws McDonald's uses every day, looking up the E.U.'s statistics on what percentage of the fast food industry consists of McDonald's, and then "multiplying up" to get to 8.5 billion.

On top of that, Straw Wars' estimate of how many straws McDonalds's uses turns out to be twice as high as the company's own figures.

8.5 billion, incidentally, was only supposed to be an estimate of straw use at fast food restaurants, not everywhere, a fact that got lost in transmission as other groups picked the number up. Eunomia has an estimate for total British straw use too—about 42 billion a year. But its methodology there is questionable too.

To get the figure, Eunomia looked at market data on the aggregate weight of straws consumed in the E.U. each year, then divided that number by each member state's GDP. This is obviously going to inflate estimates of richer countries' straw consumption, since the number of straws a country uses is going to plateau pretty quickly as they get wealthier. (If you got a 20 percent pay increase, do you think you'd use 20 percent more straws?)

Then there is Australia's ubiquitous straw stat, whose origins are a total mystery.

This was discovered by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after it aired a documentary, Waste Wars, that said the country uses 10 million straws a day. When a viewer asked where that figure came from, the network found itself unable to answer. The number nonetheless turns up not just on television but in government press releases and on environmentalist websites. And even without a good count of how large the purported problem is, some Australian senators are pushing for the country to ditch plastic straws by 2023.

The fact that dubious numbers keep surfacing in the straw debate suggests that activists are at best unconcerned with the trade-offs involved in their anti-straw crusade. So does their defensive hand-waving when confronted with the bad stats.

Take Peter Allan of the Australian group Sustainable Resource Use, who told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "I think it's important we get good data but in the end I think we can say with this there's enough consumption and enough of it is superfluous that it's worth focus."

Or take Milo Cress, the kid who gave us that 500-million-straws-a-day figure. He told USA Today, "Why I use this statistic is because it illustrates that we use too many straws. I think if it were another number, it still illustrates the fact that there is room for reduction. That's really my message."

If we're going to ask people to give up a convenience—or in the case of disabled people, a necessity—and impose new costs on businesses, you shouldn't wave away such a basic question.

Photo Credit: John Bolin/Dreamstime.com

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Lefties are having a tough time being kicked out of power.

    They need to boss people around to get their courage up.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    The Democrats were cheated out of the Presidency in 2016 because of an illegitimate, hacked election. The Republicans won't be so lucky this November, or in 2020.

    #BlueWave
    #LibertariansForGillibrand

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The Democrats are going to hire their own Russians to produce some animated gifs?

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Do you really think a man like Robert Mueller, with decades of distinguished service to this country, has spent months investigating "some animated gifs"? #TrumpRussia goes much deeper than that, as you'll see.

    What I meant is that in anything resembling a fair election, the Democrats will win. Hell, they won in 2016 by 3 million votes even with the deck unfairly stacked against them.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Mueller and Comey bungled the Anthrax case together. They both should have been terminated in disgrace back then.

  • SIV||

    Terminated with weaponized anthrax, for justice.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Do you really think a man like Robert Mueller, with decades of distinguished service to this country, has spent months investigating "some animated gifs"?

    Uhm, yes.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    But I gotta give you props to how you framed him. You see, this is the more subtle way to troll. I give this a solid A.

  • TGoodchild||

    OBL is the best - s/he should teach a class.

  • Longtobefree||

    Interesting universe you live in.
    In this one, there are only 538 votes for president; Trump won 304, Hillary won 227, and 7 were cast for 'others', in violation of the electors oath.

  • Johnimo||

    Subtract the popular vote margin from one State (California) and Trump won the popular vote in the rest of the country. But, so what? Popular vote doesn't count; it's the Electoral College that elects the President.

  • Ben of Houston||

    The electoral college also greatly deforms the popular vote in states that are solidly blue or red. There was no point in voting for Trump in California, so they have a great number of potential Trump voters stay home or vote for third parties. A similar and opposite effect happens in Texas. If the popular vote counted, then we would see a significant change, maybe making these areas more purple and less solidly red or blue.

  • Bill||

    I agree. Having Hillary as their candidate really did stack the
    deck against them. If she had only listened to her husband
    and campaigned in the swing states. Instead, she called
    them "flyover states" and "deplorables". I did not vote for
    Trump, but I can certainly understand why Hillary lost.

    You also fail to mention the huge advantage having most
    of the MSM promoting Clinton and actively working with the
    Democratic campaign to promote Trump and hurt Sanders.

    The Dems have only themselves to blame for losing.

  • Fancylad||

    How was the election "hacked"?
    Are you implying that voting machines were hooked up to the internet and "Russian Hackers" accessed them and altered the vote count?
    Or are you saying that because someone released Hillary's email to WikiLeaks, and everyone could read the horrible, crooked crap that her and her cronies actually said, that somehow counts as a "hacked election"?

  • Sevo||

    It's supposed to be parody; one-trick-pony long past sell-by date.
    No use arguing with it. When you see the handle, go to the next thing which interests you.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The Democrats have had nearly two years to come up with something looking like evidence to back up their accusations. Thus far all they have uncovered is a conspiracy on the part of Obama administration stooges, DOJ goons, and the Democrat Party to spy on the Trump Campaign. So what it looks like is Democrats FAILED to cheat Trump out of the 2016 election and are whining about it.

    Boo hoo.

  • Ron||

    easy solution how many straws do manufactures produce every year then we will have a number of total sold but not total used but it would be closer. Why do estimates when there are government agencies that tracks these types of number. Of course using overly inacurate overblown estimated numbers are needed to scare people into action.

  • operagost||

    That method would at least give us a plausible peak figure. Whatever methods we use to determine how many straws are actually consumed in a year, if they exceed the number manufactured they aren't plausible.

  • Longtobefree||

    They don't have to be plausible. You can say that only two plastic straws are used world wide, and it is still way too many.
    The ban is to make a political statement, backed by wailing and gnashing of teeth. The numbers are window dressing. And the damn cripples can just go away and die from dehydration.

  • Johnimo||

    I wash and rinse plastic straws and reuse them. I've enough to last the better part of a lifetime because I rarely discard one. I wonder if they'll start checking for them in luggage at the airport screening stations. Is it fair to say that, "When plastic straws are outlawed, only outlaws will have plastic straws"?

    Whip intp a DQ in downtown LA. Order a big ice-cream soda and then suck it down (as loudly as possible) through your own, big-bore plastic straw. Oh, the humanity!

  • Trollificus||

    You use "big-bore plastic straws"? You DO realize those are defined as "assault straws" by Plastics In the Public Interest (or PIPI), don't you? And I bet you use a "bump stock" to ensure the straw does not fall into the drink, alt-righter.

  • Bill||

    Even with only two straws, one could get stuck
    in a sea turtle's nose!

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Actually, what would perhaps matter would be the total mass of straws produced/consumed in a year, the fraction that makes it to the ocean, and what percentage of total trash or total plastic trash that constitutes.

    Or don't even bother since ALL of the plastic the US dumps in the ocean is less than 1% of the global total. And straws are a tiny fraction of that.

  • Trollificus||

    To be more scientific, it's a "tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny fraction" of that 1%.

    But as with their efforts to "save" women, protect marginalized peoples, and educate the children, the effectiveness of their saving-the-planet actions is much less important than them being SEEN to be doing "good" (as defined by them).

  • perlchpr||

    0.02% of 0.6% of the plastic waste that ends up in the ocean is plastic straws from US sources.

    (And yes, the inferrable corollary figure is that 0.6% of the plastic that ends up in the ocean is from US sources.)

  • zaphod||

    "Why do estimates when there are government agencies that tracks these types of number"

    We're totally doomed.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "Why I use this statistic is because it illustrates that we use too many straws. I think if it were another number, it still illustrates the fact that there is room for reduction. That's really my message."

    Give this kid a job at Time Magazine.

  • perlchpr||

    "So now I know I'm lying, but it's for a good cause, so whatevs."

  • JoeBlow123||

    In a nutshell, stories like this and the straw one are the reason I do not trust journalists by and large. When "facts" are repeated so often their source no longer matters, it simply becomes true by the nature of their repetition. It is much easier to see his process play out nowadays when the internet enables individual research divorced from the ivory towers of "journalists."

    No reason to trust most journalists and the rags that pay them, they are not committed to objectivity or truth as they so often demonstrate.

  • operagost||

    This kid's comment is like when Dan Rather, when faced with the fact he'd been deceived about W's service record by a laughable forgery created in Microsoft Word, said that the "facts" were true even if the memo (the only evidence) wasn't. In his defense, he's a kid. Rather is an adult narcissist.

  • Johnimo||

    Rather is noble, good, pure, and a lefty to boot. "W" is a horrible Texan (read "oil man") ... 'nuf said.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Facts don't matter Christian. The conventional wisdom is firmly established. The straw Nazis have won. Time to move on with our lives.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I think it's important we get good data but in the end I think we can say with this there's enough consumption and enough of it is superfluous that it's worth focus.

    Everything before the but...

    They do love science, though.

  • Entelechy||

    Why the sudden doubt about the power of the Invisible Hand to twist up a few billion trillion paper straws ?
    Cue antisocial entrepreneurs engineering the paper straws of the future.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Because if paper straws were superior, the market would have figured that out and used them. But because plastic straws make sense from a resources and cost standpoint, they're the most popular.

    Markets moved away from using wood and animal products for everything because that's simply not sustainable (which in turn is not cost-effective).

  • Agammamon||

    Because in the past it was more cost effective to make those plastic ones - and they were already orders of magnitude superior to the paper that development on paper was dropped.

    Now that plastic straws are being made significantly more expensive (through the ban) its now cost-effective to start up that paper R & D again.

    Its like automation - at x dollars an hour its not worth the effort to replace you. At z dollars you're over that threshold so people start looking for ways to cut you out. Drop pay back down to x and the *robots* start getting replaced.

  • Sevo||

    Entelechy|8.10.18 @ 4:59PM|#
    "Why the sudden doubt about the power of the Invisible Hand to twist up a few billion trillion paper straws ?"
    Ever hear of the "broken window"? I'm not surprised you haven't; lefties tend toward stupidity and ignorance.

    "Cue antisocial entrepreneurs engineering the paper straws of the future."
    Cue fucking slavers telling us all how we should live.
    Fuck off, slaver.

  • Entelechy||

    Stop slavering, Sevo, and learn to roll 100 dollar bills lengthwise.

  • Sevo||

    Entelechy|8.10.18 @ 11:59PM|#
    "Stop slavering, Sevo, and learn to roll 100 dollar bills lengthwise."

    So you get busted for your bullshit and that's what you hope might be a response?
    Fuck off, slaver.

  • JeremyR||

    Wouldn't it make sense to look at the numbers of the plastic straws made? I imagine most are public companies and the sales data is probably available

  • flyfishnevada||

    Make sense? When did making sense make sense? There's no money in making sense. There's no opportunity to demonize others for making choices you wouldn't. There's no fun in making sense...unless we're talking about climate change and then it's about the science, dammit, even if we have to fudge some numbers.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    On top of that, Straw Wars' estimate of how many straws McDonalds's uses turns out to be twice as high as the company's own figures.

    These are not the statistics you're looking for...

  • flyfishnevada||

    I hope Disney sues their asses off...

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Eunomia—appropriately named after the Greek goddess of legislation.

    I can't even.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Well innumeracy is a real problem. I guess at some point, 10 million or 10 billion or 10 gazillion all sound about the same and therefore all sound like believable numbers.

  • Trollificus||

    "People in America use 80 vermillion straws a DAY!"

  • MarkLastname||

    That's nothing, I use over 100 magenta straws all by myself every day.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    1. Blurt out whatever silly notion pops into your head.
    2. Make up shit to justify implementing it.
    3. Call it a day.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    1. Blurt out whatever silly notion pops into your head.
    2. Declare that anyone who doesn't agree with you is the enemy. Make up shit to justify implementing it.
    3. Call it a day.

    FTFY

  • I'm Not Sure||

    Can't argue with that.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    "We are selling tactical straws for the safety-minded patriot who refuses to give the straw habit. Made from 100% U.S. steel, engraved with a little American flag, these straws are fully reusable and dishwasher safe. Each order comes with a DVD that demonstrates how to use the tactical straw in typical self-defense situations as a hand-held weapon or as a blowgun. Five free blowdarts included. Call now."

  • Echospinner||

    I read that and thought what a great idea. You could actually sell those.

    Someone has beat you to it. But they have not included the blowgun part. Throw in a couple small darts and you could make some money on that.

    https://tisurvival.com/products/titanium-straws

  • Trollificus||

    We'll call them...oh, I dunno, "Freedom Suckers" sound good?

  • SIV||

    (although the National Park Service, CNN, and San Francisco politicians still use it from time to time)

    Challenging the factual accuracy and good-faith reporting habits of CNN?

    MUH FIRST AMENDMUNT !!1!

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    I challenge your claim that CNN reports in good faith.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Meh. Faith is for the pope and horny teenagers without condoms.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    That's one sick threesome.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    How soon until there's a download link for 3D straw printing posted somewhere?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I bought 10,000 straws in packs and shipped them to various California politicians.

    Fucking hilarious!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I hope you get arrested for straw man purchases.

  • Restoras||

    *golf clap*

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Fist, Your jokes always suck.

  • VinniUSMC||

    Straw purchases not straw man purchases... It would've been a good pun too.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Paper or plastic?

  • Jerryskids||

    If we're going to ask people to give up a convenience—or in the case of disabled people, a necessity—and impose new costs on businesses, you shouldn't wave away such a basic question.

    Aside from the fact that nobody's "asking" people to give up straws, government's not in the business of "asking", would you say that if we're going to put Jews in the ovens, we should know how many Jews we've got? When you keep fucking arguing about the number of straws, it's as if you're suggesting that if the numbers were bigger, a straw ban would be perfectly fine and reasonable and acceptable.

  • Bill||

    True, but their argument (in theory) is based
    on the number of straws and their numbers
    as usual are crap.

  • Kivlor||

    Hey Britches, now that you've covered the great threat of plastic straw bans, do an international liberty article on South Africa and the government's plan to strip whites of their property without compensation.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Can they have straws instead?

  • JoeBlow123||

    Whites should have just separated the country back then and made their own Afrikaner nation. Having 4000 white farmers own 70% of the land in a country that is 90% black is doomed to end in disaster.

  • Echospinner||

    And so it came to pass.

    One day the world woke up and the oceans were empty of life. The sea creatures of all kinds, fish, dolphins, whales, even the crabs, and mollusks. They were all gone. The lakes, rivers, the water was there but nothing swam in those waters.

    Humanity was in a panic. Scientists, fisherman, submarines, governments from everywhere searched frantically for clues but found nothing. All sea life had simply vanished.

    Then several weeks later on a Tuesday every television and computer screen went blank. A message appeared.

    "We asked for one thing. Clean water. We didn't complain about your eating us or any of that, just stop dumping your trash in our space. We thought you might come up with some kind of reasonable plan.

    And what did you do? You banned straws. Selfish idiots. You knew that would do nothing.

    We have left for another world where your species will never exist. We can't stand living with you morons any more"

    Signed,

    The Fishes


    (Apologies to Douglas Adams)

  • Eddy||

    "(Apologies to Douglas Adams)"

    Wait, dolphins aren't fish, they were grateful the humans gave them fish to eat.

  • Entelechy||

    Forget salt water flies- casting plastic straws is the real sporting challenge.

  • Echospinner||

    Those Asian Carp will hit anything.

  • Echospinner||

    The humans did not give them fish to eat.

    It is just a satire joke.

  • Eddy||

    Wait, it says "fiction" on the back!

    Well, I guess in most ways that's reassuring...

  • Rich||

    When a viewer asked where that figure came from, the network found itself unable to answer.

    That's incredible! How hard is it to say "FYTWhere"?

  • flyfishnevada||

    But it feels so good to do nothing substantial while at the same time looking cool among the elitist left. C'mon, everyone's doing it.

  • perlchpr||

    None of these countries are going far enough.

    It doesn't matter if they use 1 straw a year, or a hundred million billion trillion of them. It's too many. They need to ban plastic entirely.

    I call upon the brave politicians of Britain, Canada, and Australia, to ban plastic from their countries entirely. And I will call them horrible names until they do. Also, it's obvious that their refusal makes them all racists. Y'know, against fish.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Do you like fish sticks?

  • ||

    You should be embarrassed if you support this absurd ban.

    Think. /slap!

  • ||

    "Eunomia—appropriately named after the Greek goddess of legislation"

    There's a god for everything.

    Who's the god of retards?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    There's a broad pantheon, but mostly Tony.

  • Jerryskids||

    loveconstitution1789

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I am a god and jerryskids is a retard.

    Bow retard. Bow.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

  • Morbo||

    Who's the god of retards?

    I think you answered your own question....

    "Eunomia—appropriately named after the Greek goddess of legislation"
  • Eddy||

    Let's see what we can find on Eunomia -

    "Eunomia is the minor goddess over law and legislation. And according to the most people a daughter of Themis(Θέμις) titaness over divine law, and Zeus."

    I guess the divine laws are pretty relaxed about adultery.

    "Her opposite was Dysnomia (Δυσνομία), Lawlessness."

    Hey, libertarians, have I got a goddess for you!

    "The name Eunomia can be translated into 'good order' or 'governance according to good laws'

    "She was frequently depicted in Athenian vase painting amongst the companions of Aphrodite, and in this sense represented the lawful or obedient behavior of women in marriage. As such she was identified with Eurynome, mother of the Charites (Graces)."

    Now they've ruined her for the progs.

  • Eddy||

  • Mark22||

    The Greeks recognized correctly that one God wasn't enough, so they had Lyssa and the Maniae. Koalemos was the god of stupidity. The Romans had Ira, Furor, and Rabies. Obviously most of those have found good use in modern English.

  • Eddy||

    Salon? No, First Things. Sad!

    "The burden is on us to demonstrate that, on specific religious matters, society has no compelling interest in depriving us of particular freedoms."

    Of course, it's about women wearing drapes on their heads. If you want to make a case for repressing that, make it, but the burden of proof is on whoever wants to limit religious activities.

  • Mark22||

    The Democratic Party, the party of science!

    Well, at least the scientific justification for the straw bans is still better than the scientific justification for carbon emission reductions.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Plastic straws must have some kind of devastatingly cool/awesome/"dangerous" potential for "misuse" that "we" haven't figured out yet but "they" have. Perhaps they are the key to unlocking the next stage of evolution, or communicating with extraterrestrials, or building an incredibly powerful weapon. If only I could access InformationWars through my F.A.G.S. accounts then Señor Jones would be able to tell me.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Next up on the proggies list to ban: Napkins.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I was looking on the ground today through all the hypodermic needles and I saw something that shocked me to my core: a discarded plastic straw.

  • JoeBlow123||

    lolol.

  • Devastator||

    Wandering around San Francisco, eh?

  • Echospinner||

    Almost all of the plastic in the oceans comes from trash and fishing nets from underdeveloped countries. They come from rivers in China, Southeast Asia, the Nile and others. If you have a lot of poverty and people the trash flows downstream.

    As populations get richer they put proper trash disposal in place. What we should be doing if we are worried about trash in the oceans is encouraging globalization, trade, and peaceful relations with other countries and around the world. But that would make us libertarians.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Allah and Jesus forfend!

  • Hank Phillips||

    Face it. Prohibitionist pseudoscience ordered a ban on over-the-counter sale of syringes as soon as LSD was outlawed. Suddenly there were hepatitis epidemics (and lethal overdoses) in all cities enforcing such bans, followed by HIV outbreaks a few years later. Buses in Austin blare Orwellian recordings about "smoking" being VERBOTEN at stops anywhere near a school, and superstitious meddlers lie awake nights coming up with pretexts for men with guns to grab and shoot folks with those vaping devices (which might someday be used with hash oil). Conservatism in the post-Comstock era is still that haunting fear that somebody, somewhere, might be happy.

  • sarcasmic||

    Nine year old boy, tired of being hit in the back of the head by spitballs, comes up with a grand scheme to outlaw his tormentors' weapon of choice.

  • Longtobefree||

    Bad stats are used to push every political proposition ever proposed.
    So what?
    Even true facts are used to push bad political ideas.

  • Wysiwig||

    Perfect illustration of over the top exaggeration to promote a political agenda. Our city council banned straws, large fines and potential jail terms. In the mean time bureaucratic incompetence lead to the W&S department releasing over 1mm gallons of waste treatment sewage into the bay. I suggest they get their act together before arresting people for using straws. PS. they say they're doing this to protect the bay, but in 20 years of living on the ocean I've never seen a straw blow up on my shore.

  • Devastator||

    Welcome to the collective mass hysteria that is modern mass media. People don't stop and think any more. I can't wait til the straw bans work themselves into courts and the nearly defenseless straw gets to defend itself.

  • jjjjj||

    Rigid Plastic Clamshell Packaging results in the death of over 300 sea turtles and 6,000 Emergency Room visits ever year. It's time we ban rigid plastic clamshell packaging!

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