Environmental advocates grasp at straws

It often pays to trace a statistical claim to its source. Christian Britschgi at Reason did that with the claim that Americans use 500 million straws a day. That number has been used by California legislator Ian Calderon and others to advocate for restricting their use.

The actual number of straws being used is unclear. Calderon, along with news outlets writing about this issue—from CNN to the San Francisco Chronicle—unfailingly state that Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day, many of them ending up in waterways and oceans. The 500 million figure is often attributed to the National Park Service ; it in turn got it from the recycling company Eco-Cycle.

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.