On 20 September 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1881 “Food Facilities: Single Use Plastic Straws” into law. The law becomes effective on 1 January 2019 and will prevent full-service restaurants from providing a plastic straw unless the customer specifically requests one.
Before we examine the impact of California’s new AB 1881 plastic straw law, let’s take a look at some of the environmental claims made by proponents of the plastic straw laws.
Claims by Environmental Community
The Environmental Community has made a number of outrageous claims about plastic straws:
• 500 million straws used per day In the United States.
• Plastic Straws are one of the top 10 items collected in Ocean Cleanups.
• Straws are made from natural resources such as oil, natural gas, and coal which cannot be replaced once depleted.
• Straws are only used for an average of 20 minutes before being discarded.
• Media cites inaccurate statistic on plastic straw weight.
• Plastic straws harm the environment and marine wildlife.
500 million straws used per day in the United States?
“How many plastic straws do Americans use every day?” was a question asked by 9-year old Milo Cress. He started a project called “Be Straw Free” and called a handful of straw manufacturers in the United States to get estimates of how many straws are used per day. Through his research he estimated that Americans use about 500 million straws daily.
While Cress has received criticism, particularly for his 500 million statistic, the “Be Straw Free” movement started when he was at a restaurant with a friend and noticed other people taking the straws out of their drink without ever using them. He considered this a waste. He talked to the local restaurant and asked them to adopt a policy to “offer first.” It turned out to save money and make people more aware of the plastic they use.
The environmental movement has adopted 9-year old Milo Cress’s estimate of 500 million straws per day. No independent study was conducted to corroborate this estimate. For the environmental community, the bigger the number, even if not correct, the greater the “perceived” negative impact on the environment by the public. While the environmental community and the news media for the most part accept the estimate, there is some confusion and some contrary estimates.
In an article, author Tracey Bailey, claims “Over 500 million straws are used daily worldwide for an average of 20 minutes before being discarded.” [Bold mine] So which is it? 500 million per day in the United States only or is it 500 million per day worldwide?
A foodservice disposables research firm, Technomic, estimated that in 2017 approximately 63 billion straws were used in the United States per year in the food service industry, which includes restaurants, coffee shops, fast food chains, convenience stores, and cafeterias in hospitals, nursing homes and schools. That is about 170-175 million straws per day. If you divide 63 billion straws per year by 365 days, you get 172.6 million per day.
Another market research firm, Freedonia Group, estimated that the nation used about 390 million straws per day or 142 billion straws per year.
The Foodservice Packaging Institute, an 85-year-old trade association, estimates that fewer than 250 million straws are used each day.
Let’s face it, NO one knows how many straws are used in the United States per day or per year. The estimates are all over the place.
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