How Green are my Plastics?
Science Matters / by Ron Clutz /
fo1cdfdc8b76_hcs3-2d291-2-e1598902719247-1447×1536-1FINALLY – the Truth about Plastics & the Environment
I recently became aware of this research and video presentation (H/T Patrick Moore). For those who prefer reading a text to watching a video, I prepared a transcript of the talk below in italics with my bolds added.
My name is Dr Chris DeArmitt and Ii’m going to tell you about plastics and the environment.
But first i’m going to start with a story. I once read a wonderful book called Factfulness, and it told a story about how important it is that we act based on facts. Before the early 1990s parents were advised to place their infants to sleep on their front, contrary to advice from clinical research. If they had listened to that scientific evidence then they might have prevented over 10,000 infant deaths in the UK and at least 50,000 infant deaths in Europe, the USA and Australasia. But they didn’t listen. In fact it took decades for doctors to change their advice even when the data was so clear that thousands more died unnecessarily.
This talk aims to reset the way we think about plastics in the environment by showing that our current beliefs don’t match reality. The science tells us the exact opposite of what we’re being told online. And the reason it’s important to know the truth is that when we ignore the facts and the science we end up destroying the very thing we set out to protect.
Here’s an outline of the topics we will cover. First a summary of what we believe now. Then a look at what the evidence tells us, and finally we examine reasons why these two things don’t match up.
We all recognize that we can’t believe everything we see in the media. Traditional media is less reliable than it used to be and social media is even worse. Here’s a study that shows us some numbers. Only 20 percent of people believe in the local news and only four percent of people strongly believe in social media. So we all know that we can’t trust the usual sources of information that we use. And yet that’s where our information is coming from.
So how bad is the accuracy of this information? Well they did a study on millions and millions of tweets and they found out that the lies are 70 more likely to be spread than the truth. That means that we absolutely cannot trust anything we hear on social media. Why? Because the lies are more sensational and sound newer than the truth. The truth’s too boring and even when the truth is spread it never really catches up with the lies.
That’s part of what I’m trying to address here. So what are the consequences of being told all of these lies online? Well it turns out that if you repeat a lie enough times people believe it, and it doesn’t matter how smart you are or how good you are at critical thinking, everybody’s susceptible to this. They’ve done large studies on it.
So these lies that we’re being told all the time sound like the truth because they sound familiar after a while, and we end up becoming brainwashed. And you’ll notice on all the slides that I’m presenting here there’s a little text at the bottom which (I don’t know if you can see it) here at the bottom of the page. “Every time I say something because I’m a scientist I support it with scientific evidence.” That means that there are giant scientific studies to prove what I’m saying and that’s the opposite to what you hear online. When you see something online they just claim something sensational with zero proof. Everything I say here and everything I say in my book is proven.
I just mentioned my book The Plastics Paradox. Let me tell you a little bit about that. I’ve made it my personal mission to collect and read hundreds of scientific articles to uncover the truth. I didn’t go around looking for articles that supported a pre-existing opinion. I went out and found every single piece of information I could. And why me? Well for one thing my kids were being taught lies at school and I found that totally unacceptable. So I decided to go and find the information to present to the teachers and it mushroomed into the book.
Also I’m a leading PhD. polymer scientist, so I’m uniquely qualified for this task. As a scientist I do not make, market or sell plastics. Some people say that they can’t trust a plastics expert to talk about plastics. And I find that interesting. I ask them whether they refuse to speak to a medical expert when they’re sick. Or if they’re sick do they ask a car mechanic for an opinion or a journalist. Of course you go and ask a medical expert when you want a medical opinion. So when you want an opinion about the technical details of plastics, go and ask a doctor in plastics.
And that’s me.
Some of my friends ask me why I’ve devoted thousands of hours and thousands of dollars of my own money to this topic when it’s not my job. I sometimes ask myself the same question. This is why. I’m a professional scientist so I believe we should base our opinions and our actions on fact not fiction. Everything we do has an impact on the environment so we have two choices: Either we have to go and move back into caves or we can continue to enjoy the modern lifestyle we love so much while making choices that minimize our impact.
How do we do that? Well life cycle analysis is the only proven and accepted way to know what is green and what is less green. It considers all environmental impacts. That means raw materials, the manufacturing of a product, the transporting the product, the function of the product in use (for example driving your car around), repairing the product, and also waste and recycling. Companies, governments and environmental groups all rely on life cycle analysis: It’s standardized and also peer-reviewed for consistency and to make sure that nobody cheats. Any system can be improved upon but if we were to abandon life cycle analysis then we’d have to toss a coin to decide what’s green? It’s better to use a tool that’s good but imperfect than to have no tool at all.
The outcome of a life cycle analysis depends on many things including the geographical location that you’re considering so there’s no universal answer. However if you read a hundred of these life cycle analyses, the geographical aspects start to cancel out and average out. And you get some trends. So here are the trends that I’ve noted after reading a bunch of these life cycle analyses. If you can make something out of a hunk of wood, that’s usually the greenest option. So for example, wood decking and wine corks are examples where wood is greener than plastic.
But most things can’t be made out of wood, so plastic is then usually the greenest choice. Paper is sometimes greener than plastic, but usually it isn’t. Examples where plastic are greener include shopping bags or grocery bags. I found 24 life cycle analyses on grocery bags and plastics coming out greener in every single case, in every country no matter where they analyzed it. In 24 studies plastic bags were greener than paper bags and not a single case saying the opposite so here we are banning something which is categorically proven to be the greenest option. Banknotes is another example. A lot of bank notes are made of plastic and they’re proven to be greener than the paper ones because they last so much longer.
And mailer envelopes is another example.
Steel, aluminium and glass are far worse due to the extreme heat and the energy needed to make them, and their density which increases the impact of transportation. So these are the general trends that we see.
Here’s a quick summary of what I discovered when writing The Plastics Paradox and reading all the science. As I said, all of this is soundly proven and you’ll find all the citations in the book and on the website. Statements I quote are verbatim so I copy and paste the statements from the scientific articles to make sure that there’s no spin on it. And as i said it’s all cited so you can check it yourself. If this information is different to what you’ve heard online or in the press, that’s because this is the first time you’ve actually heard the truth backed by hard data and presented by a professional scientist instead of some hack.
Now I want to show you some very very powerful new information I discovered after the book was published. So part of the reason for this talk is to zoom out and not just focus on plastics but look at the overall picture. I was reading a book about materials and the environment and I was absolutely shocked to my core when I turned the page and saw this pie chart on the left.
The pie chart shows that plastics are only about one percent of the material we use. All we hear about all day long is plastic, as if it were the only material, and we’re drowning in plastic. And now i suddenly discover from this book that plastics are less than one percent. I found this information so incredible that i decided to double and triple check it. And when i did I found out that a number was actually wrong. It’s actually too high: The amount of plastics we use is only 0.4 percent of materials. You can check this yourself using siri and alexa and google to ask: What’s the annual global consumption of plastics; what’s the annual global consumption of materials? And then work out the percentage.
This is absolutely shocking to hear that we’re obsessing about plastics and it’s 0.4 percent of our problem. So based on that finding I decided to do a little bit more digging. We’re told every day that we’re drowning in plastic waste. Of course no data is ever given. So I decided to go and check the data on how much of this waste is actually plastic. In the book I already found out that 13% of household waste is plastic and about 10 percent of what goes into a landfill is plastic. What i didn’t know then was that household waste is just 3% of all waste; the other 97% is industrial waste. So it turns out that plastic waste is 13% of 3%, which is 0.3% of all waste. So once again we’re told online without evidence that plastic is the cause of all of our worries and it turns out to be 0.3 percent of the waste problem.
And as we saw in The Plastic Paradox book and on the website plastics have actually dramatically reduced waste on top of that. So we’re obsessing about a tiny fraction of the problem. There’s no way we can solve the world’s problems by putting a hundred percent of our effort into 0.3 of a problem.
We hear about plastic in the oceans all the time. In the book I explained there are no huge floating islands, they just don’t exist. Scientists say they don’t exist; the man who discovered the gyres also say that they don’t exist. And there’s no soup either; it’s just been all dramatized for the sake of getting your money out of your pockets by certain environmental groups and journalists who don’t care about the facts. It turns out even in these gyres the maximum amount of plastic that you is about one game die if you were to take a game die from monopoly and put it in an olympic-sized swimming pool. that would be too much.
I decided to check how much plastic is actually entering the ocean. We see and hear big numbers but we don’t know what it means. It’s very hard to conceptualize these numbers. So it turns out that the amount of plastic entering the oceans is this tiny tiny number I can’t even say it, but the percentage is many many zeros with a six at the end. Clearly I’m not saying there should be plastic in the oceans, but the number is rather small compared to what we’ve been led to believe. No, there will not be more plastic than fish in the sea; that was debunked as well.
I showed that last slide to a friend and he said it would be more meaningful to compare the amount of solid sediment being washed into the oceans from rivers to the amount of plastic. So once again i went looking for the scientific data and I was able to find it. Plastics make up about 0.05 percent of the solid sediment being dumped into our oceans and rivers. It’s mainly polyethylene polypropylene polyethylene terephthalate and polystyrene; which means the plastics that we eat our food out of every day, so they’re not very much of a concern from a health point of view.
Interestingly there are also massive amounts of deadly chemicals, munitions and even nerve gas in the ocean, but no one talks about that. I wonder why they would rather focus on plastics and ignore the things which are actually proven to be toxic. So-called environmental groups are very keen to bring out the turtle pictures. There’s even a famous video of a turtle with a brown cylinder of some kind in its nose; but there was never any evidence that it was made of plastic. They never analyzed it when they were doing the video; in fact they thought it was a worm, as you can hear in the video soundtrack. They say, “Oh, is it a worm, is it a worm?” and then afterwards they suddenly declare it’s plastic without any analysis whatsoever.
If you’re concerned about turtles you should be looking at these statistics on the left hand side because I looked up turtle mortality rates and here they are. You can see that shrimp trolling accounts for up to 50,000 turtle deaths; fishery is up to 5000; collisions with boats up to 500; dredging up to 50; and other 200. And nothing at all about plastics. So that’s interesting isn’t it? If you do care about turtles, and you’re not just trying to get sympathy votes out of people and pry their money out of their pockets in terms of donations, then you would be looking at these causes of death which are the actual things that turtles suffer. But they’d rather focus on plastics because it suits their purposes.
As well as turtles we hear a huge amount about whales. I saw another article today about whale deaths, so I decided to look up the many studies on whale deaths. And once again I’ve quoted them all. From the scientific studies quoted the causes of whale deaths: entanglement in fishing gear; natural causes, and vessel strikes where boats hit them. So why are they incessantly telling us that plastics are harming whales when not one single one of these articles even had a mention of the word plastic or bag. These are multi-decade studies with thousands and thousands of whale deaths listed and not one mention of plastic or bag.
I find it absolutely reprehensible a while ago several newspapers covered a story saying that there were these massive amounts of micro plastic raining down on our national parks. They said it was several tons of microplastic deposited every year and I thought wow, that’s hard for me to imagine; let me work it out as a percentage, for example, of dust that’s deposited. So I went and found some studies on that; and i can tell you it’s a lot of work to look up all of these studies. The environmental groups like to argue with you and they like to come out with these claims, and they produce no studies whatsoever. And I’ve been working on my own with no funding, and I’ve turned up all of these studies and double checked and triple checked everything. How much hard work it is to actually check the facts, when it’s easier to spout nonsense.
So anyway let’s look at the grand canyon. You can calculate there’ll be 12 tons per year of microplastic dust on the grand canyon and that sounds like a lot. And it is a lot, but it depends on how big the grand canyon is. So i went and checked that and correlated that with the total amount of dust that would be deposited on an area that size which is 50 000 tons a year; meaning that microplastics make up 0.03% of all the dust deposited per year. So instead of hearing this tonnage number which means nothing to us, while the actual percentage is rather small. I’m not saying it should be there but again it’s safe plastics like polyethylene polypropylene and things we eat our food out of. But what’s the rest of this dust made of? The 99.97% in large proportion is quartz which is known to cause cancer; it’s also made up of a large amount of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium which are known to be toxic.
So isn’t it interesting that people would rather focus on 0.03% of safe material because it’s plastic and easy to demonize, and totally ignore things which are known to be toxic and known to cause cancer and are being breathed in in giant quantities.
There’s an example where ignoring the science leads you in the wrong direction. Here I’ve put together an NGO scorecard to see how well these so-called environmental groups are doing at telling us what’s green and what isn’t and what to do. In The Plastics Paradox book as you saw I showed that pretty much everything they’ve told us is untrue; meaning that the science says the exact opposite. And in this talk we’ve zoomed out a little bit to look at the bigger picture. And we found that if we were worried about materials use, concrete, metal and woods would be the things we would focus on.
But instead these non-governmental organizations want us to talk about plastics. If we’re worried about material waste we will be focused on manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, but instead they want us to focus on plastics. If we were worried about turtles we would be worried about trawling, fishing and boat strikes, but they want us to concentrate on plastic instead. If we’re worried about whales we’ll be looking at trawling, fishing and boat strikes, but instead they want us to talk about plastic. If we were worried about dust we’d be worried about this inorganic dust which contains quartz and heavy metals, but instead they want us to look at plastic. If we were worried about materials that use giant amounts of energy and create co2, we would be worried about gold, platinum and palladium, but they want us to talk about plastic instead. And when it comes to grocery bags, if we’re worried about things that cause harm we’d be looking at paper, cotton and bio plastic bags, but instead they want us to focus on plastic bags which are proven in every single study to be the greenest.
So if we look at how well these so-called environmental groups are doing, they’re not doing very well at all. In fact I can’t find a single area where they’re given evidence which helps the environment or matches the evidence and the science. This means one of two things: Either they’re wildly incompetent, in which case they don’t deserve our funding and our donations. Or they’re actually corrupt, in which case they also don’t deserve our funding and our donations.
How do we know which one of these two things it is? Well, it’s impossible to know somebody’s intent without being inside their mind, but recently there have been some very interesting books by former environmental group members. And they’ve come out and said, I’m ashamed to have been a part of this group. They’re just corrupt and they’re just telling you lies and scaring you to get your donations. So there are insider reports like Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout by Patrick Moore; and there’s Apocalypse Never by Michael Schellenberger.. You can find
several other books along those lines regarding environmental groups where former members have left ashamed and embarrassed, and published books explaining that these guys are just trying to rip you off.
So here are the conclusions.
We’ve been lied to again and again by groups keen to enrage us and trick us out of our money.
We need to start basing our opinions and our policies on facts and evidence.
Let’s focus on cleaning up the environment by making wise choices
And if you want to do that please tell your friends about the truths you’ve learned today.
If you know a reporter please tell them;
If you know a CEO or a politician, then please tell them.
And if you know Bill Gates or Qprah Winfrey, so we can get some publicity for the truth, then please tell them.
As you’ve seen facts don’t catch up with lies. We need every bit of help we can get because the lies are already in people’s brains. They spread farther and faster than the truth and we’re playing catch up. We really need to make an impact if we’re ever going to change people’s minds. Stop making stupid policies and stop enriching these groups that are lying to us.
The Plastics Paradox book was written so that people could get the story. But all the information is at plasticsparadox.com. And it’s important for you to know I’m not trying to make money out of this presentation. All this information, all the peer-reviewed science is available for free at plasticsparadox.com. No registration; I’m not selling you one thing. All I’m doing as a professional scientist is telling you it’s time to look at the facts and start making progress instead of pedaling backwards.
Sadly some people are so passionately against plastics that they don’t care about the facts. They prefer to attack me online for example and that’s a shame because well-intentioned people are making harmful choices due to bad information. Just like the story about those infant deaths that we told in the beginning. So if you care about making progress please remember what we’ve said here. Go and visit the website and tell anyone you know who’s an influencer that we’ve got to redress this and start to create a brighter future together.
Thank you very much for your time.
Dr. DeArmitt wondered about why activists target plastics when they are trivial compared to other problems. To many of us, the answer is obvious: Plastics are derived from oil and gas, and therefore anathema to cliimatists, Fear of climate change is the driving bias behind efforts to demonize plastics, as well as many other products that make modern life possible.