Media, Legislators, Activists Stick By Straw Stats Produced By 9-Year-Old #2018_AtFebruary 15, 2020
Hellen Sergeyeva/Dreamstime.comDubious statistics can keep thriving in our policy debates long after they’ve been debunked.
Take the oft-cited fact that Americans use 500 million straws a day.
Learning its true source did spark some self-reflection from the Washington Post , which had cited the 500 million number in some of its reporting, and which ran a story that was somewhat skeptical of Cress’s findings.
This past Friday, the Post was back to uncritically citing Cress’s research, saying in a story that “by some estimates, Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws a day.”
Calderon’s office could cite no other national statistic about straw use in the United States, but because no one had definitively debunked Cress’s number, they were going to stick with it.
The marketing analysis firm Technomics specializes in researching the food service industry.
Technomics found that Americans use 172 million straws each day.
Cress reached his 500 million figure from calling three straw manufacturers, asking for their estimates of the straw market, and then averaging the answers he got.
Given the fragmented nature of the food service business, Henkes says that approach is bound to give you a bad figure.
For this reason, Technomics adopts a “triangular” approach, surveying over 1,000 restaurant operators, looking at data from distributors such as Gordon Food Service and US Foods, and examining numbers from packaging companies (several of whom are Techonomics clients).
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