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The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics
4

The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

3
(OP)
Recently I've read a lot of news about plastic straws and a general push against single-use plastics. I get it, people want to do something good for the environment. However, these articles make claims without facts. It's shockingly bad journalism and irresponsible because decisions are being made based on faulty information. Some of those decisions actually hurt the environment instead of protecting it. Is that what you want? Read on to learn more...

Today I even read a piece in The Washington Post entitled "Plastic straws aren’t just bad for the environment — they can be bad for your body". It says that straws cause wrinkles, gas, cavities and can leach toxic chemicals. Those are bold claims. The problem is that no evidence is given. Not a single piece of evidence. Are you so gullible as to believe anything you're told without facts? I didn't think so. Another article was at Vox.com. It is entitled "Why everyone is shunning plastic straws" and it states that plastic doesn't degrade. That's simply not true.

As a leading plastics expert it's my job to know the facts. Companies like P&G, HP, Exxon, Disney, Apple and more rely on me to know what's what. I looked for studies on plastic straws and health and could not find any. Here is what I do know and I have cited the articles to support what I'm stating here because that's what professional scientists and journalists do.

Plastics are polymers. Polymers include cellulose (which is what trees are made of), silk, cotton, collagen (in your skin) and even DNA that makes life possible. We cannot live without polymers. They exist in nature and are some of the safest materials around.
Plastics do degrade. Most straws are made of polypropylene. Laypeople think that's a stable plastic but it is actually very unstable. It appears stable only because stabilizers are added to protect it. Polypropylene degrades readily with time, or when heated, or when exposed to UV light (including sunlight). It even degrades in a land-fill as proven in an article cited below. Other plastics degrade too and there are thousands of articles about it.
Single-use plastic bags have been proven to be better for the environment than any other kind of bag such as paper or cotton. Life cycle analysis is a laborious but proven way to see what's green and what isn't. Single-use polyethylene bags win every time. I have cited several studies to prove it (from the USA, Canada, Australia and more). That means that banning such bags actually hurts the environment. When I am at the checkout at Kroger they ask me "paper or plastic?" and I reply "plastic please, it's better for the environment". See multiple LCA references below.
It has been claimed that "Microwaving Plastic Releases Cancer-Causing Agents". I get asked about that quite often but it has been proven to be a made up story. Put that title into the search box at Snopes.com to read more. The same for the story that it's unsafe to reuse PET bottles. It's a made up story.

A few months ago, I sat next to a young person on a plane. She took a nap and I glanced at her laptop computer which had a sticker on it which said "Rise above plastics". I had to smile because of her naivety. The sticker was made of plastic and so was the adhesive that held it on her plastic laptop. Her backpack was made of nylon plastic and so were her shoes. She had a PET plastic water bottle in her hand and was cosied up in a polyester blanket. The only thing I could see that wasn't synthetic plastic was her cotton jacket but cotton is just a natural polymer. Later, she woke up and started editing video made on her plastic Go-Pro camera while swimming in the ocean in a rubber suite with plastic flippers on. She had no idea that her life would not be possible without the very plastics she demonized.

A common mistake is to assume that natural materials must be greener and safer. I recently saw an article suggesting bamboo straws instead of plastic so I went and checked to see if bamboo is safe. Plastic straws are subjected to very strict tests to ensure they don't give out any toxic substances but how does bamboo compare? I looked to see if any chemicals come out of bamboo when you put it in water. The answer was shocking. Large amounts of biologically active chemicals leach from bamboo into water, like you would find in a soft drink. The substances were said to be cytotoxic (article cited below). We cannot assume that natural products are safe.

Plastics make our lives better. They are essential to medical care and so much more. Most people don't realize it but using plastics actually saves oil, saves energy and saves a huge amount of food from spoiling.
Conclusion

My intention is to warn you not to fall for sensationalist journalism. If you care about the planet and the future of our children then make sure to check the facts. If an article doesn't cite any evidence, then ignore it.

I agree that plastic litter is a problem but that's not the fault of the plastic. When I see clothes on the floor of my kids room my response is not to ban clothing in the house! But that's what we're doing with plastic. Plastic bottles do not leap into the ocean by themselves. It's a people problem, not a plastic problem. Plastic pollution in the ocean has been analyzed so now we know what it is and where it comes from. It's mainly discarded fishing nets and the rest comes from a few rivers in a handful of countries but not from the USA or Europe. So, those countries are not the issue and bans will cause more harm than good.

Originally posted on LinkedIn. I wanted to share it here because people responded so positively to it.

LCA of plastic bags: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Life_Cycle_Analysis_of_Plastic_...

Life Cycle Assessment of Grocery Bags in Common Use in the United States

Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006

“FINAL REPORT” Life Cycle Assessment for Three Types of Grocery Bags - Recyclable Plastic Compostable, Biodegradable Plastic; and Recycled, Recyclable Paper

Revealed – the truth about plastic, The Spectator

Degradation Study of Polypropylene (PP) and Bioriented Polypropylene (BOPP) in the Environment C. Longo, M. Savaris, M. Zeni, R. N. Brandalise, A. M. Coulon Grisa, Materials Research. 2011; 14(4): 442-448.

Biological Activities and Phytochemical Profiles of Extracts from Different Parts of Bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescens), Molecules 2014, 19, 8238-8260; doi:10.3390/molecules19068238

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Isn’t What You Think it Is https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/03/great-...

http://www.bpf.co.uk/Press/Oil_Consumption.aspx

Chris DeArmitt PhD FRSC
President

Plastic materials consultant to the Fortune 100
Creating New Materials - Problem Solving - Innovation Keynotes - Expert Witness
www.phantomplastics.com

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

"Plastics make our lives better."

Bingo. We are orders of magnitude better off with plastics than without. Great post Chris.

It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

We need to be realistic about human behavior. Some convenience items require us to be smarter than we actually seem to be, in bulk terms, to avoid producing a huge unintended negative outcome from using them such as gigantic masses of plastic in the oceans. It's not the plastics at fault, it's human behavior. Yeah, I know that a huge amount of the plastics in the oceans are fishing gear, and that is likely the most destructive kind, but the vast mass of disposable packaging items in the world's oceans is growing too, undeniably. We've demanded convenience in the extreme and the plastics packaging industry has delivered- incredible products for incredibly low prices. If we could get people to dispose of these products properly, or better still if we could set up post-consumer collection and recycling for them that people would actually use, we could have a great outcome, but that would require people to be smarter than they are and care more than they really do. So that's where regulation kicks in. Vilifying a material is idiotic, but you can't deny there's a problem here and it needs to be addressed.

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

(OP)
Thank you! Posted this in a rage on LinkedIn and it's attracting way more attention than I'd anticipated. It seems in today's society it's all about sensational headlines and no facts. Hard to make good choices in a fact vacuum!

Chris DeArmitt PhD FRSC
President

Plastic materials consultant to the Fortune 100
Creating New Materials - Problem Solving - Innovation Keynotes - Expert Witness
www.phantomplastics.com

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

Making decisions on the basis of a reasoned evaluation of actual data seems to be a dying art. There seems to be no attempt to make sense of technical issues before reporting them in the media, because the idea of journalism itself seems to have been killed by the internet. Both demon3 and myself seem to spend a fair bit of our time trying to address the most ridiculous examples of false or wildly distorted scientific reporting when we come across it, and I'm sure many other Eng-Tips members do the same. Even though the backfire effect is real, pseudoscience does need to be challenged and doing so isn't a total waste of time either:

https://mindhacks.com/2018/01/03/the-backfire-effe...

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

I don't disagree with much that was said here, but the issue with plastics is that they are so easy to make and are more convenient to use than anything else. The world did OK when straws were make with waxed paper, but they quickly got waterlogged and almost degraded over the course of drink 12 oz of soda, and probably couldn't survive long enough to finish a 32-oz soda. Moreover, you certainly couldn't use such straws to drink hot drinks. The stabilizers are such that the currently extant plastic straws can survive continuous exposure to HOT water, ala 180 °F, with ZERO deformation or degradation; not sure whether anything gets leached out, but very little. The plastic drink bottles can't even handle substantially lower temperatures (~110 °F) before shriveling into potato chip inspired shapes.

So, while it's not the plastic's fault, per se, its convenience, malleability into different applications, and cost of manufacture makes it such a compelling product that no other product can readily compete.

The same argument applies to silicon for integrated circuits. When I graduated from college, a respected engineer made a prediction that silicon was going to die pretty soon, because it was going limited to about 1 micron geometries, given the UV-based photolithography, and general processing limitations. This led to the rise of gallium arsenide as the "technology of the future" that was going to supplant silicon, and to the rise of x-ray lithography to get sub-micron geometries. Well, so 40 years later, gallium arsenide hasn't gonoe very far, and the few x-ray lithography companies that were formed all went bankrupt, and silicon geometries are now down in the single digits of nanometers. We're finally getting to the point that the wise graybeards are saying that Moore's Law is about to die. Prior to silicon's ascendancy, germanium was the material of choice; remember germanium transistors? But, silicon was a SO MUCH better material that germanium died a pretty quick death, and has only recently re-emerged as a component in a different material system attempting to supplant silicon.

Anyway, the point is that there are certain materials that are seemingly placed into the periodic table solely for us to exploit, and the ease by which we can exploit them makes it absurdly difficult to go somewhere else on the periodic table.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

I tell people the thing the plastic bag guys did wrong was to make them so thin.
It saved an incredible amount of energy and natural resources, but it also made them blow in the wind and that's the only thing people notice.

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

"that's the only thing people notice"

uh... that and the fact that pets and other animals get their heads stuck in the handle loops and can't get the bags off. Likewise, there's been evidence that birds and fish get their heads trapped in the loops of plastic 6-pack retainers

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

(OP)
Already over 2500 views on LinkedIn. What a response. Seems to be a topic people are passionate about. I'm surprised.

Chris DeArmitt PhD FRSC
President

Plastic materials consultant to the Fortune 100
Creating New Materials - Problem Solving - Innovation Keynotes - Expert Witness
www.phantomplastics.com

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

About a week ago there was a post on our neighborhood blog site about bottled water sitting in the sun. The worry was BPA leaching into the water. I stayed out of it because these never go well, but then a tin foil hat type said all plastics emit dioxin when heated. I politely but firmly pointed out that yes, dioxin can be produced when plastic with chlorine was burned under the right conditions, but heating isn't burning, and there ain't no chlorine in polyester, so no, you will not get dioxin when polyester water bottles are stacked in the sun. I also explained the relationship between BPA, polycarbonate and PET, and no there should not be BPA in PET. Somebody cited a news story about a study in Florida that says there is PBA in PET water bottles. I found it, then found the paper it cited, and read it. University of Florida did an analysis on bottled water sourced in china and found BPA in it. They rightly observed there should be no BPA in PET, and speculated on how it got there. One explanation was the use of post consumer regrind. So now I was curious. I found that it is now permissible to use 100% regrind in PET water bottles. Seems the greenies are pushing the recycling thing. Not sure how much regrind is practical from a molding standpoint. The article also looked at antimony trioxide which is the polymerization catalyst used in pet production. That is also showing up in the water. Antimony trioxide is toxic and potentially carcinogenic. I'm working to figure out if the potential dosages are significant. However, there are new catalysts with no antimony or other heavy metals. So now I'm looking to find out how much regrind is used, who is using PET made with the new catalyst, and if they are mixing new catalalyzed resin with old regrind. Dont know how open the bottlers will be, probably not very.

My point here is that these issues are seldom black and white. Those of us with knowledge should work with the uneducated so we make sane choices that will actually accomplish something, but we cant just drink the kool-aid. I used to have fun with the tin hats. One was lamenting about radon gas. I said no worry, the lead in the water will shield you from it. Now Im taking this a bit more seriously.

Rick Fischer
Principal Engineer
Argonne National Laboratory

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

The majority of plastic waste pollution comes from developing countries. Considering that Polyethylene & Polypropylene via fractional distillation produce a reasonable substitute for diesel fuel with very little residue, these ought to be the plastics that developing countries assign a preference for their myriad uses and programs for small recycling/distillation systems be implemented.

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

(OP)
Over 10 000 views now. As I see there's a need for accurate information here I've started a new more in-depth article, working title: "How the Environmentalists are Killing Our Planet".

It shows that by making decisions without data, they are harming the environment. We need to make important decisions like this based on facts, not just emotion.

Chris DeArmitt PhD FRSC
President

Plastic materials consultant to the Fortune 100
Creating New Materials - Problem Solving - Innovation Keynotes - Expert Witness
www.phantomplastics.com

RE: The Last Straw, Lies & Bad Journalism - some facts about plastics

I'd love to read that paper and provide comments Chris- we're fighting the same battles daily I think!

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