Plastic has a bad reputation. People all over the world perceive plastic as a harmful material, and the impact of plastic on the environment is almost universally acknowledged as a negative thing. But plastic isn’t all bad — if we take the time to see beyond our initial interpretation and really ask ourselves how plastic affects the environment, we can see that plastic can have a positive impact if used and recycled properly. In our latest podcast episode, we interview an expert who has spent thousands of hours delving into the facts about plastic.

Sneak Peek for Episode #15

Check out the latest podcast to hear us talk plastics, research, and misconceptions with Dr. Chris DeArmitt. You can watch or listen on our website or subscribe on Spotify or Apple. Want a sneak peek? Read on to see some of the topics we cover.

Introducing Guest Host Dr. Chris DeArmitt

Our guest host for this episode is Dr. Chris DeArmitt, author of The Plastics Paradox: Facts for a Brighter Future. Dr. DeArmitt is a world-class plastic materials consultant and independent environmental expert; professional scientist; PhD chemist; chartered chemist; a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry; a fellow of the Institute for Materials, Minerals, and Mining; and an award-winning keynote speaker. We are excited to have had the opportunity to speak with Dr. DeArmitt about his research and his book!

The Importance of Research vs. Feelings

Dr. DeArmitt is no stranger to research. While writing his book, he spent over 3,000 hours reviewing over 4,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles and reports to inform his book and findings on the impact of plastic on the environment.

"Generally, my career has been to find the facts first,” he explains. “A real scientist — the good ones — go and find all the evidence and then make up their mind based on the evidence, instead of finding one article that supports what they already believe based on nothing. And that is human nature. People react this way; they have a gut feeling and then they create a logical reason in their mind as to why they feel that way. They rationalize their feelings using their logical brain. And my job as a scientist is to do the exact opposite of that. My job is to go and find the facts and then make up my mind logically based on the facts."

This is not a novel concept, particularly when it comes to plastics. As Natalie points out, "That's something that we've talked about on the podcast before. In relation to plastic specifically, we feel that a lot of people have a very emotional reaction to it. The waste and the litter is very visible, so people just automatically have this feeling that it must be terrible and bad. And maybe they see one article that's been written that confirms that, and that just solidifies their belief until they can be convinced otherwise, which is very hard to do in many cases."

Misinformation Surrounding the Impact of Plastic on the Environment

In the age of information, things spread quickly. This is great when people are talking about news or research findings, but it gets complicated when the information being shared is incorrect. Dr. DeArmitt explains the reason he started writing his book is that his children were receiving false misinformation about plastic in their schools, and he wanted to set the record straight about the impact of plastics on the environment.

"My daughters came through the door one day and they said, 'Dad, we've been taught that plastics take hundreds of years to degrade.'"

"There's a thing called the illusory truth effect. If you repeat a lie enough times, people will believe it. The only way to break free of that is to know in the depth of your soul that the thing is wrong. I'd read hundreds and hundreds of studies. For context, the world market for plastic stabilizers is five billion a year. Who would spend five billion to buy stabilizers for plastics if they were stable? It just wouldn't make any sense, right?"

"So I knew that that was wrong. And then I thought ‘Well, I wonder what else they're learning is wrong? What about the turtle and the straw? What about litter? What about waste?’ And so I got a bit carried away and that's what I've been doing."

So how does plastic affect the environment? With the availability of misinformation, how do you know what’s really true? Finding the truth takes dedicated research — you have to be willing to challenge your perceptions when the data doesn’t agree with your preconceptions.

The Plastics Paradox: Changing Misconceptions About Plastic

Dr. DeArmitt has spent years researching materials and the impact of plastic on the environment. His book, The Plastics Paradox: Facts for a Brighter Future, goes in-depth into many of the misconceptions we as a society have about plastics. Some of these misconceptions include:

  • Single-use plastics are bad for the environment. Single-use plastics — straws in particular — have a bad reputation. But when you ban plastics, what do you replace them with? Is a paper straw, which disintegrates after a single use, a better alternative than a plastic straw which can be reused over and over again?
  • All plastics must be replaced. How can you know the long-term effects of banning plastics? Let’s start with true life-cycle analyses (LCAs) for the applications we want to address. An LCA takes into account more than just greenhouse gasses; it includes analysis of pollution, toxic effects on animals, eutrophication, and more. And when we perform LCAs across a range of materials such as pipes, textiles, and even grocery bags, it turns out that plastic is very often the greenest option.
  • Plastic creates more waste. It’s common to look at plastic as a wasteful material. But how much waste does it actually create? In fact, plastic waste represents a small percentage of overall waste and municipal waste. One pound of plastic can replace three to four pounds of metal, glass, or paper, meaning that trying to replace plastic can actually result in more material waste in the long run.
    Dr. DeArmitt drives home the point of his book: he is not trying to say that plastics are perfect materials. There is some harm that comes from working with plastics. However, in most cases, plastic is the material that does the least harm — and that’s what we need to strive for.

Take Part in the Conversation

Want to learn more about Dr. DeArmitt’s research into the impact of plastic on the environment and the misinformation surrounding the material? Visit his website, plasticsparadox.com, to buy his book — or download it for free!

Want to continue the conversation with ICPG? We’d love to talk plastics! Listen to the full podcast on Spotify and Apple, or our website, and reach out to us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram to share your thoughts.


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