I caught this rubbish floating around last week - new figures purporting to represent the amount of littering that goes on in New Zealand.Here's the infographic that Keep New Zealand Beautiful put up to go with their report. The numbers didn't make any damned sense on the face of it. Headlines talked about there being ten billion littered cigarette butts around the country. But anyone with a passing familiarity with any of the relevant numbers should have been sceptical. To a first order approximation, the government collects about billion per year in cigarette excise taxes, and the tax on each cigarette is about a dollar. So that's about two billion cigarettes sold per year in total - as a rough estimate. Every one of those cigarettes would have to have been littered, for five
Eric Crampton considers the following as important: complete nonsense, Statistics New Zealand
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All results were quoted against a 1000 m2 site area and extrapolated across the area of New Zealand.
The project, conducted by not-for-profit organisation Keep New Zealand Beautiful, took five months to complete.
With the help of the Department of Conservation, Statistics NZ and the Ministry of Environment, two leading researchers pegged out areas across the country and calculated their litter content.
Keep New Zealand Beautiful's chief executive, Heather Saunderson, says the results are frustrating.
"The research estimates 10 billion cigarettes are littered across the country. That equates to 2142 cigarette butts per New Zealander."
Enough takeaway containers - 258,043,800 litres worth – were found to fill 25 rugby fields one metre high, while the 364,965,000 litres of disposable nappies was enough to take up 154 Olympic swimming pools.Bad policy comes from bad public perceptions of the true state of the world. Bad public perceptions of the true state of the world are fostered by innumerate journalists who haven't the time to think critically at all about any number presented.*
Despite drops in smoking rates, discarded cigarette butts remained a big headache: some 10,269,090,000 were picked up, or 2,142 for every person in the country.
KNZB chief executive Heather Sanderson said, at railway sites around New Zealand, nearly 12 litres of litres of litter was being found every 1000 square metres.
"Extrapolated, that means 265,324,848 litres of illegal dumping – enough to fill 2,123 rail carriages, which if you stack them on top of each other, would be as high as 151 Sky Towers."
KNZB needs to withdraw its Very Big Numbers, and, if they want to have a number that might represent the country as a whole, work with Stats to find a better way of doing that. In the absence of KNZB doing that, Stats really should withdraw its imprimatur from the report.
* Unless that number comes from anyone associated with Big Industry (tobacco, sugar, alcohol - whatever). Then even accurate numbers are dismissed out of hand, because innumeracy means leaning on trusting the source because you have absolutely no clue how to judge whether a number is right or not.