Venti Exaggeration

March 27, 2013

My lunch came to work with me in a Starbucks bag which now sits empty on my desk. While I downed pico de gallo on multi-grain chips with slices of colby-jack cheese, I read the text on the bag. The photo below is from the bag’s side panel. And it has a problem.


Grammar Lesson

Re-wording this poorly constructed sentence makes the meaning clear:

Making this bag out of 100% post-consumer material saves 48,000 trees.

Here’s why this is a problem: The dependent clause after the comma modifies the verb, made. Only one bag is made in the original sentence. The rewording above makes the relationship

between made and saving clear, exposing an impossibility–

Grade School Story Problem

How many bags can be made from one tree? I have no idea, but we need a figure to do the math. Let’s use the round and easy figure of 100, for surely one tree can produce that many small bags.

Question 1) How many times would the bag sitting on my desk have to be re-used to save 48,000 trees in one year?
Answer: 4,800,000 times. (100 bags in a tree x 48,000 trees.)  That’s one very durable bag!

Question 2) If an average person lives to be 85 and starts carrying a lunch to school and work at age 5, how many lunches will use a bag in his or her lifetime?
Answer:  20,800 lifetime lunches. (52 weeks x 5 days a week = 260 lunches a year; 260 x 80 = 20,800)

Question 3) How many friends would you need to help use your bag to save 48,000 trees?
Answer: 229 — with 16,000 uses short. (4,800,000 total uses ./. 20,800 lifetime lunches per person = 230.769231 people. Since you are one person, you would need 229 friends.)

Extra credit: Do the above math using the figures 150, 200, and 400 bags from one tree.

Grammar Correction

I think what Starbucks really means is:

Making all of the bags we use at Starbucks this year out of 100% post-consumer material will save more than 48,000 trees.

Using the same figure as above (which I’m sure is way lower than how many bags can really be made out of one tree) means that Starbucks uses 4,800,000 bags in a year. For a business where most customers don’t require a bag, this seems a little suspect.  And if a tree yields 150, 200, or 400 bags (which seems more likely than 100) the total bags used in a year increases to 7,200,000;  9,600,000; or 19,200,000 respectively.

Seems like a venti exaggeration brewed and served with a dollop of poor grammar.



  1. Interesting! Perhaps you should do the same kind of analysis using politicians’ speeches! Dad liked to say, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

  2. Just think how long the article would be since this was just this was on one sentence!

    I never heard him say that – good one!

  3. Nice job debunking their claim! 🙂 Maybe you miss homeschooling just a little bit??? This is math and grammar to make my kids cringe! 🙂

    • HAHA! Maybe a little! You should give your kids the original sentence and ask them what’s wrong with it 🙂

  4. I wish there was a “Love” button to click. I absolutely love this post! Thank you for creating and posting it. 🙂

    • Thanks, Suzanne. The longer I sat eating and reading, the more silly the whole thing seemed!

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