11th April 2024

‘The current negative views are not based on evidence.’

ALPLA invited Dr Chris DeArmitt, President of Phantom Plastics and one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of plastics, for an interview. He spoke about why he believes that plastic has an often wrongly negative image and why people misunderstand and worry far too much about microplastics.


Hello, Dr DeArmitt, and thank you for your time. Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

After being born in the US, I grew up in England and earned a BSc, MPhil and PhD in Chemistry and Polymer Science. Today I am President of Phantom Plastics, which is based in Ohio, and support companies around the world. I am recognised as one of the world’s leading scientists and problem solvers for plastic materials, and Fortune 100 companies regularly ask for my help when they want to find or create the best material. I started disproving myths about plastics as a hobby by presenting peer-reviewed scientific findings. That got out of hand, and now Google and others consider me the leading independent expert on plastics and the environment, probably because no one else was crazy enough to read over 4,000 studies unpaid and then give away the scientific findings for free. My message is not pro plastics, but rather pro facts, evidence and logic.

How do you view the current negative debate on plastics and why do you think plastic is fantastic?

The current negative views are not based on evidence. NGOs have misled the public and politicians, and the results are decisions and policies scientifically proven to increase materials use, waste, greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel use and overall impact to the environment. I do not consider plastic to be fantastic. Winston Churchill once said: ‘No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ I feel the same way about plastic. No material is perfect, they all have their pros and cons, so we should pick the one that causes the least harm. If you look at life cycle analyses, it turns out that plastics are proven to cause least harm in over 90 per cent of applications. Therefore, moves to tax or ban the greenest choice we have just drives us to increase harm by switching to other materials.

You have also written a book, ‘The Plastics Paradox’. What was the reason for doing this and what do you write about?

My two daughters came home from school one day and had been taught that plastics take hundreds of years to degrade. As an expert in the field, I knew that to be untrue. It made me angry that I pay taxes to have my kids taught lies, but then I realized that the teachers have no way to know the science. So, I went about collecting the science to share with the teachers and the public. I soon realised that it was much more work than I had imagined, because to cover materials use, waste, litter, ocean plastics, microplastics and all the related topics, I would have to read a tremendous amount. For the book, I read over 400 scientific studies and now that number is over 4,000. I did that work unpaid and shared the findings for free via the book (in five languages), website, podcasts, radio and TV.

What do you think are the biggest myths surrounding plastics? What arguments can be used to counter them?

Demonising plastics has turned into a highly profitable business. In fact, the former president of Greenpeace say that they and others have abandoned the environment and now just make up scary stories to get our donations. The consequence is that virtually everything the public see about plastics is misleading at best and pure fiction at worst. They have huge resources and professional marketing teams, so it would require radical actions to counter their message.

Everyone is currently talking about microplastics. Packaging is also wrongly cited as one of the main drivers. What do you think about this?

Every solid forms particles. Think of rocks which turn into stones, then sand, then dust. Think of leaves that crumble to dust. Plastic makes up 0.001 per cent of dust that we ingest but because it has a special name, ‘microplastics’, we do not think of it as dust like the other 99.999 per cent of particles we ingest. We think of it as something new, scary and unknown, when in fact decades of testing shows it to be as safe as natural materials like clay or cellulose. The ironic part is that although the plastic portion of dust is safe, the 99.999 per cent we ignore contains proven toxins and carcinogens. Our obsession with plastic is distracting us from paying attention to real dangers.

The potential impact of microplastics on health also plays a major role in this discussion. What information do you have on this?

So far, I have read 300 to 400 studies on microplastics and have not seen any credible evidence of harm. Most studies find no reason for concern and the ones that do claim to find a problem turn out to not be valid when you check how they did the experiments. The errors made include using one million times too high of a dose compared to what is realistic and using a special kind of lab-made particle that does not even exist in the environment. In contrast, the competent studies spanning decades show that plastic particles are non-toxic. In fact, a scientific review showed that we are only concerned about microplastics because the media have lied to us and misreported the science.

About the person:

  • Dr Chris DeArmitt
  • President of Phantom Plastics

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