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PLASTICS & THE ENVIRONMENT
FACT OVER FICTION

THE MOST INDEPENDENT & COMPREHENSIVE INVESTIGATION

Plastics & the Environment – get the facts from the #1 independent expert – microplastics, litter, waste, ocean plastics, degradation, LCA

Introduction

We have all heard the scare stories about microplastic exposure. It has been said that we eat up to a credit card’s worth of plastic per week. The health effects are said to be at best uncertain and at worst all kinds of harm including but not limited to, endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA leaching into our bodies. We hear about microplastics in blood and microplastics in the brain.

What surprises me is that although I have seen tons of scary stories, I have not seen any real practical advice on what to do. As a career scientist and problem, solver, I thought it would be worth examining the facts and giving people a course of action.

This page will give an overview of what we know, how concerned we should be and also provide context for the threat of microplastics compared to all the other kinds of particles we are exposed to.

The Plastics Paradox Book 3D

Exposure

Studies show that by far the greatest exposure comes from drinking out of plastic bottles, and glass bottles too by the way. The microplastics have been measured and it turns out that it is mainly polyethylene and PET coming from the bottle itself. Each opening and closing causes abrasion and creates over 500 particles per open / close cycle. The 5g per week number came from a worst-case scenario based on a person drinking all of their water from bottles.

This means that the first action is to reduce exposure is to not drink only bottled water. You will save some money and help the environment too because life cycle studies confirm that regular tap water is greenest, i.e. causes least impact.

What else can we do? I have a habit of using soft drink bottles like fidget toys. I open and close the top probably hundreds of times for my own amusement. Not doing that anymore would dramatically reduce microplastic particle formation and exposure.

Those are two practical examples of easy steps we can all take if we are concerned about exposure. Is there anything else? So far, I have read hundreds of scientific studies about microplastic exposure, types, toxicity and so on and while searching I found another powerful way to reduce exposure. It turns out that the design of the thread on the bottle and cap have a huge influence on particle generation. If you choose a bottle and cap that have serrated threads, then those rough edges generate about ten times more particles than smooth, continuous threads do.

Here is an image from the study comparing smooth threads that generate much lower amounts of microplastic particles when the bottle is opened and closed (left and right) to serrated threads which generated a ten fold increase in particles (middle). I wondered why the threads are serrated on some bottles and not others. Industry experts told me that they serve an important function. If the bottle is shaken and pressure builds up, the breaks in the thread allow pressure to release safely. Without them, large pressures can build such that the bottle could burst, creating a huge mess and even injury. In fact, the problem is not so much the serrations themselves but that they abrade away the soft cap material. So, one solution might be to round out the edges of the serrations to cut back on abrasion and particle formation.

Risk Evaluation

We have looked at exposure and mitigation strategies, so now it is time to evaluate the level of risk. After all, we encounter thousands of risks every day and we don’t have the time or energy to get worked up about them all. We need to prioritize and worry about the main risks. The alternative is to stay at home and hide under the covers all day.

The assumption is that microplastics is a new topic, so the science has not been done yet. While it is true that the term microplastic was invented relatively recently, safety testing on plastic particles has been going on for decades, so the results are in.

A scientific review of many microplastic studies found that the consensus is that there is no evidence of harm from microplastics. That is surprising given that we see news headlines about risks all the time. Well, the study looked at that too. They found that while the majority of scientific studies find no risk, the media stories say there is a risk over 90% of the time. This means that the media have intentionally misled us, presumably because scary stories make money.

C. Völker, J. Kramm and M. Wagner, On the Creation of Risk: Framing of Microplastics Risks in Science and Media, Global Challenges, 4 (6), 1900010, 2020

So, if most studies find no real evidence of harm, what about the minority that do claim to have identified a threat? Scientists looked into that too and found that most or all of those studies are not valid. Why not? The studies were not conducted properly.

Many studies used up to 10 million times too much plastic. Using massively more than is in the environment invalidates the study because toxicity depends on dose. Even oxygen, sugar and the safest substances are toxic if you use an unrealistically high dose. In fact, looking at eight studies they all use absurdly high concentrations of plastic and were criticized by other, more professional scientists (Lenz, Enders and Nielsen). They plotted actual levels of microplastic in the environment (red dots), which are extremely low and then compared to the concentrations of microplastic used in studies (colored lines), which are so high as to render the studies meaningless. Note that the scales are logarithmic, and a concentration of one million particles per liter used in studies is a 1 000 000 000 times more than 1×10-3 particles per liter found in the environment.

Not only that but only 10% of studies were done on the right kind of plastic, meaning the kinds that we actually use and that end up in the environment. The studies claiming to show a potential problem are meaningless because they were done on a special kind of lab synthesized particles that no-one in the world is actually exposed to. Next time you read a headline claiming to show a threat from microplastics, remember that there’s a very high probability that it is junk science presented to scare you into donating to some fake environmental group.

Those are not the only mistakes made. Proper scientific studies use a “control” meaning that you compare the results to a suitable reference. Microplastic studies almost never compare the results for plastic particles to the results for other kinds of particle. Are there any studies where they compare plastic particles to other particles? Yes, there are, and they found plastic particles to be as toxic as clay (from soil) and cellulose, which is to say not toxic. Here is a quote from one such study:

“…the experimental design of most studies does not allow distinguishing plastic-specific effects from those caused by any other particles, such as clay and cellulose, which are ubiquitously present in the environment. We suggest that microplastic effects reported in recent ecotoxicological studies are similar to those induced by the natural particles.”

After reading hundreds of studies on plastic particles, I have yet to see a single valid study showing harm. There are decades of studies on plastic particles and here are some, all showing no reason for concern.

Can particles be dangerous? Yes, without a doubt. Hundreds of thousands of people die every year from particles but ask yourself this. Should we be more concerned about 1 non-toxic plastic particle or the other 99999 other particles we ingest that contain real toxins and cancer-causing substances like cadmium, arsenic, lead and quartz? Every person is free to choose what worry about, but as a scientist, I choose to worry about real, proven threats, not imaginary, disproven ones. I am not alone in this view either. For example, see this detailed lecture on the facts and perspective around microplastics: Microplastics, Public Health Myth or Menace – Ian Mudway

Conclusions

Humans are notoriously bad at judging risks. We tend to go with our gut feeling or scary headlines we see because the vast majority of us hasn’t got the time or expertise to check the science. I have checked the science, for myself and my family and I am sharing it for free, so that people can make smart choices. I hope that you now feel armed with the information you need to decide what action, if any, you want to take.

Remember that when you see scary stories about plastic particles, they come from two main sources, so-called environmental groups who want to scare us into donating our money and the media who publish sensational nonsense to get advertising dollars.

Is that too harsh a judgement? Recall that the WWF told us that we eat up to a credit card of plastic per week? Well, that was based on a study they paid for (Cox et al.) and a later, independent study (below) showed that it was utter nonsense. In fact, we do not ingest 5g per week but 0.000004g a week, which means that it would take over twenty thousand years to eat a credit card of plastic. Why were the WWF so wrong? Why did they not publish a retraction when their claim was disproven? Why did the media cover the untrue scary story but not cover the good news that exposure is actually so low? Money, that’s why.

Nur Hazimah Mohamed Nor et al., Lifetime Accumulation of Microplastic in Children and Adults, Environ. Sci. Technol., 55, 8, 5084–5096, 2021

Let’s stop being manipulated by organizations greedy for our money and stop worrying needlessly over matters not deserving of our time and attention. After all, there are plenty of real dangers that deserve our attention. If your organization is worried about microplastics, or your customers are, then contact Dr DeArmitt, the leading independent expert and keynote speaker on microplastics.

About the Author

Dr. Chris DeArmitt is considered a leading independent expert on the environmental effects of plastics on the environment. He read over 4000 studies unpaid and then shared the science for free via his book The Plastics Paradox, websites, podcasts, radio and TV. He is an award-winning keynote speaker educating global audiences on plastic materials science and the environmental effects of plastics. In 2024, Dr DeArmitt launched a new keynote talk specifically to address the growing concern over microplastics. Whereas so many reports aim to frighten the public, Dr. DeArmitt is able to shine new perspective on the topic reassuring business owners, executives, staff and customers alike by showing that microplastics are not new, unknown and dangerous. In contrast, hundreds of studies spanning decades show them to not pose any threat.

In 2018, Chris was featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes with Scott Pelley as an expert witness in a class-action lawsuit related to Marlex mesh plastic implants. He helped thousands of women get settlements. Later television appearances include Sky News and the BBC as well as assorted radio and internet media interviews.

In 2020, Dr. DeArmitt published The Plastics Paradox, the first comprehensive, scientific overview of plastics materials and the environment covering all topics including waste, litter, microplastics, degradation, ocean plastics and more.

Chris has a multitude of granted patents as well as numerous articles, book chapters, encyclopedia chapters, and conference presentations to his name.

you can be for the environment, or against plastics, but not both”.

Some reviews for the Plastics Paradox…

“…the most important tome on plastic sustainability of our lifetime! A masterpiece and important book for all to read.”

“Pure Accuracy from a Real Expert!”

“…cites studies, scientific articles and research to dispel truly dangerous misinformation that we have all been force-fed for decades.”

“An excellent book that everyone should read.”

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Dr. Chris DeArmitt is a renowned independent scientist with decades of experience solving tough technical challenges for some of the world’s leading companies. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. He is also a Chartered Chemist with a long list of publications, presentations and patents to his name. His review of over 4000 studies around plastics and the environment was performed unpaid to preserve impartiality. He then shared the findings for free via The Plastics Paradox book, websites, podcasts, radio and television. After some years, Dr. DeArmitt is now considered perhaps the leading expert on plastics and the environment and is a keynote speaker educating audiences globally.

Income 2022 : ~ 60% NAICS 424690 Chemicals, ~30% NAICS 423990 Durable Goods, 0% NAICS 541110 Legal, ~10% NAICS 325211 Plastics Composition varies over time

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