Even if the US never used a plastic straw again, it would barely make a dent

The final straw.
The final straw.
Image: Reuters/Darren Staples
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Americans supposedly use 500 million plastic straws every day—or not. It turns out that the math behind that figure was done by a nine-year-old in 2011.

But, let’s say—for the sake of argument—that as many as 500 million plastic straws are used in the US every day. That would be about 182.5 billion straws a year. A plastic straw weighs about 0.4 g. Do the math and you’ll arrive at about 73,000 metrics tons of plastic straws per year.

How much plastic waste is generated in the US every year? According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, it’s a lot: 30 million metric tons. Do the math and you’ll figure out that, even if we are to take the inflated estimate of a nine-year-old at face value, plastic straws account for only around 0.2% of total plastic waste in the United States every year.

That doesn’t mean Starbucks is wrong to plan to ditch plastic straws by 2020: Research has proven that public awareness campaigns—when backed by science—guide overall behavior toward more sustainable consumption.