Microplastics and Human Health: Scientist Sets Record Straight

Microplastics and Human Health: Scientist Sets Record Straight

International Bottled Water Association | News Release | May 28, 2024

Alexandria, VA – Common myths about the environmental impact of plastic and concerns about microplastics on human health are debunked by an independent scientist in an H2O In The Know podcast, a social media channel of International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).

Chris DeArmitt, PhD,1 says false information about plastic is being spread online and in the news by environmental groups who are trying to scare consumers into donating to these groups’ misguided causes.

Materials used to package food and beverages (such as plastic, metal, and glass) are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe for human use. For many decades, thousands of studies have been conducted on these materials. “Scientists are saying that microplastics are not toxic, yet . . . if you compare the science and what we’re being told, what the public believe, what politicians believe, it’s two completely different things—and that’s a problem,” asserts DeArmitt.

“They [environment groups] tell us we eat a credit card of plastic a week—science says that would take 20,000 years,” says DeArmitt. “I’ve yet to see a single peer-reviewed, credible study that showed any harm from microplastics,” he says. 

“It’s not about defending plastics. It’s about ‘let’s start with what’s true and move on from there,’” he tells H2O In The Know host Chris Torres. 

DeArmitt says he has nothing to gain from setting the record straight. He doesn’t make, market, or sell plastics, and he doesn’t even sell his book The Plastics Paradox, which is available for free online.

DeArmitt explains he is an accidental advocate, motivated to ensure any discussions about the impact of plastic on the environment are based on facts, not fiction, after discovering his children were being misinformed by their teachers. He takes on this task during his free time, educating industry and legislative decision makers about the science behind plastics. “It’s not about defending plastics. It’s about let’s start with what’s true and move on from there,” he tells H2O In The Know host Chris Torres.

What is the truth about plastics?

“If we compare plastics to other materials, we find that they’re the greenest packaging solution in 93% of cases studied. 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. So, if you think plastics are bad, why would you move to something that’s two to four times worse? That’s a question,” says DeArmitt.

In addition, DeArmitt explains that plastics make up less than 1% of all material used. “Anyone who is genuinely concerned about using too much material wouldn’t just be talking about 1% of a problem because that’s a sure way to fail, right? I’m a problem solver by profession, and I know that a great way to fail to solve a problem is to start with bad information and obsess over 1% of it,” he says.

And when it comes to landfill waste, plastics make up a surprisingly small part. “Plastics are proven to massively reduce the amount of material going to landfill because on average, 1 pound of plastic replaces 3 to 4 pounds of metal, glass, or paper.”

Most consumer plastic packaging, such as the PET and HDPE plastic used to package bottled water, is 100% recyclable. DeArmitt argues plastic packaging has the least environmental impact regardless of whether or not it is recycled.

Plastic pollution

Green groups often lobby for bans on the use and sale of plastics, citing it as a way to end plastic pollution. However, as DeArmitt explains, the pollution they are discussing is really “litter that is created by people.” He goes on to say, “And we know the solutions to that. It’s education, deposit schemes, and fines. And this is a key point.” Getting rid of one packaging material type, such as plastics, will not stop people from littering. They will continue to toss cans and bottles out of car windows and on the ground or leave them behind in parks and on beaches.

“I always get pushed back on that. They’re like, you can’t blame the people. And I’m like, yes you can. You have to blame the people who were to blame, right? If you blame the wrong people, you come up with solutions that make things worse. And so that’s the importance of properly apportioning blame,” he says.

The bottled water industry has made great efforts and accomplished great strides in producing packaging that uses less material and energy and is 100 percent recyclable. Although the recycling rate for bottled water containers is higher compared to other packaged beverages, the industry is equally committed to improving current recycling rates.

“The only way to make sensible choices that actually work and don’t make things worse is to start with facts,” he says. “My biggest fear is if you start off with nonsense, you end up doing things that don’t make sense. … The politicians believe the lies. The consumers believe the lies. And so, the consumers are out there demanding things which are scientifically certain to increase harm.”

DeArmitt says consumers are also being misled about plastics in the ocean. An analysis of plastic from the ocean gyre reveals that 85% of ocean plastic is fishing nets and a mere 0.03% are single use items (straws, bags, etc.). “The oceans are not choking on these things,” he says.

Listen and subscribe to H2O In The Know wherever you get your podcast—Apple, Google, Stitcher, Spotify, or SoundCloud.

To listen to this podcast in full on SoundCloud, CLICK HERE.
You can also watch Chris Torres interview Chris DeArmitt on YouTube by CLICKING HERE.
A transcript of the podcast is available by CLICKING HERE.

For more information about bottled water, visit IBWA’s website: www.bottledwater.org


Media Contact: 
Jill Culora 
[email protected] 

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is the authoritative source of information about all types of bottled waters, including spring, mineral, purified, artesian, and sparkling. Founded in 1958, IBWA’s membership includes U.S. and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. IBWA is committed to working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, to set comprehensive and stringent standards for safe, high-quality bottled water products. 

In addition to FDA regulations, IBWA member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is a mandatory annual plant inspection by an independent, third-party organization. 

1 Chris DeArmitt, PhD, is a fellow and charter chemist of the Royal Society of Chemistry, as well as a fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. He’s also the author of a book called The Plastics Paradox.