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Outspoken Scientist Offers a Different Perspective on Plastics

Plastic materials expert speaks out on issues ranging from carbon emissions to microplastics and human health.

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1, Freelance Writer

June 10, 2024

3 Min Read
Rick Lingle via Canva

At a Glance

  • Chemist/consultant Chris DeArmitt offers an atypical narrative about plastics and the environment.
  • Only 3% of the environmental impact of food packed in plastic relates to the packaging, he says.
  • DeArmitt claims that credible evidence of microplastics harming health does not yet exist.

Big water is talking back to plastic naysayers through the International Bottled Water Association’s “H2O In The Know” podcast, which recently featured an interview with outspoken plastic materials scientist Chris DeArmitt.

DeArmitt is a PhD chemist; fellow and charter chemist of the Royal Society of Chemistry; a fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining; and founder of Phantom Plastics, a polymers and plastics consultancy. DeArmitt speaks widely on plastics and the environment.

Introducing DeArmitt to the podcast audience, host Chris Torres described him as being “on a mission to debunk current myths and misunderstandings about the impact that plastic has on the environment.”

Torres went on to ask DeArmitt for his take on plastic materials and packaging and their effect on the environment.

“If we compare plastics to other materials, we find that they're the greenest packaging solution in 93% of cases studied,” DeArmitt said. “So, in almost every case, replacing them means vastly more greenhouse gas. I'm talking three times more greenhouse gas, about four times more waste, and double the fossil fuel used if you want to go to paper or metal or glass.”

DeArmitt added, “Plastic certainly does have an impact, but it's a very small impact.” Focusing on food packaging, he added that “food is incredibly bad for the environment,” based on the resources required to produce it. For “a typical piece of packaged food, 3% of the impact of that is the plastic packaging, and the rest of it is the food and the transportation.”

Additionally, “When you do the math, you find out that because that plastic packaging is able to stop the food from spoiling and protect it during transportation, you end up saving five to 10 times more [carbon dioxide]," he said.

Microplastics, recycling, and litter.

Torres also asked his guest if microplastics and nanoparticles pose a threat to human health.

“I've yet to see a single peer-reviewed, credible study that showed any harm from microplastics,” DeArmitt replied, adding that there’s a disconnect between what scientists say on the subject and what the media reports.

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Meanwhile, his response to a question about recycling took a global turn: “Everyone's obsessing over these low recycling rates in America, which are maybe nine to 10%. In Europe, it's like 45 to 50%, even higher. So there's no fundamental reason why we can't have more recycling…[we] need to put in infrastructure and incentives to make that happen.”

DeArmitt also shared his opinions on plastic pollution, reframing it as litter caused by consumers rather than pollution caused by industry. Rather than placing the blame on brand owners and other companies, he supports solutions that target litterers, such as consumer education, fines, and deposit schemes — solutions that aim to modify consumer behavior.

DeArmitt did not cite scientific references for the data and findings he discussed during the podcast. However, DeArmitt does cite references in his book “The Plastics Paradox,” which is based on more than 400 scientific articles. DeArmitt also authored the book “Innovation Abyss: An Innovator's Solutions to Corporate Innovation Failure” published in 2016 and available at Amazon and elsewhere.

You can watch the full 21-minute podcast here:

About the Author(s)

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1

Freelance Writer

Kate Bertrand Connolly has been covering innovations, trends, and technologies in packaging, branding, and business since 1981.

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