Straws, Landfills, and Toilet Paper

Let’s get right to the point here. The modern drinking straw was patented by Marvin Stone in 1888. The company he started continues today as part of the Precision Products Group. Joseph Friedman patented the bendable straw and started a company called the Flex-Straw Company in 1939.

In 1969, Friedman’s Flex-Straw Company was sold to the Maryland Cup Corporation which soon became one of the country’s largest producers of plastic straws.

Why the switch to plastic over paper?

“It was better, it was cheaper, and they didn’t fall apart,” says David Rhodes, the global business director for paper straw manufacturer Aardvark Straws, a division of Precision Products Group. “It truly was a better product at a cheaper price, and in that era, no one looked at the future impact it would have on our environment.”

It costs roughly $0.01 less to produce a plastic straw than a paper straw. Perhaps 500 million straws are produced a day according to Milo Cress who guesstimated the number when he was 9 years old. Since I’m more inclined to believe a 9 year old’s numbers than anything else in the press these days, this means it will cost the United States $5,000,000 more per day to switch to paper or about $1.835 billion per year.

Aardvark Straws is a $5.6M company and is the only U.S.-based producer of paper straws.

The impact of plastic straws on the amount of plastic that winds up in the ocean is 2,000 tons out of the nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste or 0.025% of the total amount of plastic.

One of the analysis techniques a number of us are familiar with is rank ordering where the attempt is made to concentrate on things that have the greatest impact. The Paretto Principle then tells us that 80 percent of problems may be caused by as few as 20 percent of causes.

In other words, there’s no way in the world that anyone should be spending a lick of time on plastic straws since even eliminating 100% of them has no meaningful impact on the problem.

Why do it then? Because it’s easy to do and makes everyone feel good without doing the hard things which are — hard.

Scott Adams points out that history does not repeat itself — it only feels that way. While he’s right, this certainly reminds me of the great landfill scare of 1987. In short, 3,100 tons of Islip Town and New York City trash were sent on a voyage aboard the barge Mobro 4000 based on the idea that it would be cheaper for Long Island to pay a contractor to take their trash away than increase the size of their own landfills.

The barge was turned away at  Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Belize. Authorities in Mexico and Cuba threatened to fire on the barge if it tried to dock.

At the time, pundits had morphed the account of the Mobro 4000 into a scare that landfills all over the country were almost full and if something wasn’t done to reduce trash, there would be Mobro 4000s adrift all over the ocean.

Supporting this were “facts” that numerous landfills were closing down all over the country. Which, it turns out, was true EXCEPT they were closing because technology made larger, more modern landfills more cost efficient. They left that part out.

It took several months for the entire scare to work its way out of the media.

And who can forget in 2007 Sheryl Crow calling for us all to use one square of toilet paper per use? Or two to three squares on ‘pesky occasions.’

  1.        Break off one nicely perforated square of your favorite double ply toilet paper.
  2.        Puncture toilet paper in the middle with an index finger.
  3.        Wipe bottom clean with said finger.
  4.        Use same piece of TP to clean off finger.
  5.        Wash hands thoroughly.

And this will accomplish nothing at all for the environment except probably causing you to use more soap and water.

In the end, environmentalists particularly seem to be attracted to things that are easy to do, make them feel good, but really don’t address anything of significance. The only solution for “big things” is to get large piles of money together such as through the Paris Climate Accords and hope someone actually uses the money in some meaningful way.

Which we have many examples of how this as worked before such as when the world got together to well, er, ah.

Never mind.


Mark Rosneck

Written by Mark Rosneck

Site owner and bilagáana


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