Matt Simon (@mrmattsimon) is a science writer at Wired magazine and the author of A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies.
What We Discuss with Matt Simon:
- Microplastics contain a cocktail of toxic chemicals, many of which are linked to diseases like diabetes and cancer.
- Microplastics break even further into nanoplastics, which are small enough to move through human organs — including the brain — and enter our cells.
- Nearly everything around you — carpets, curtains, coasters, cups, packaging, clothing, couches, beds — contains plastic, and it all sheds plastic particles.
- Your home is one of the most polluted places – you could inhale as many as 7,000 microplastics a day.
- What we can do to reduce our exposure to microplastics and decrease our reliance on overall plastic consumption.
- And much more…
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Plastic never dies. Instead, it breaks down into ever smaller pieces, as everything from nurdle spills at sea to a nylon shirt tossed into the trash eventually becomes microplastic. These tiny particles are insidious new pollutants colonizing the planet, from food to water to the air itself. Scientists are just beginning to uncover how microplastics might threaten health, but each new study is more alarming.
On this episode, we’re joined by Matt Simon, a science writer for Wired and author of A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies. Here, we discuss the shocking extent of microplastic
pollution and the far-reaching consequences for human and animal health. We’ll find out what makes these tiny particles so dangerous, how they’ve spread to every corner of Earth, and solutions to stem the tide of plastic. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss the show we did with Vince Beiser — author of The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization? Make sure to check out episode 97: Vince Beiser | Why Sand Is More Important Than You Think It Is!
Thanks, Matt Simon!
If you enjoyed this session with Matt Simon, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
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Resources from This Episode:
- A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies by Matt Simon | Amazon
- Matt Simon | Website
- Matt Simon | Twitter
- Matt Simon | WIRED
- Great Pacific Garbage Patch | National Geographic
- What Are Microplastics? | National Ocean Service
- Nanoplastics: A Complex, Polluting Terra Incognita | Environmental Science & Technology
- History and Future of Plastics | Science History Institute
- Microplastics in Seafood: How Much Are People Eating? | Environmental Health Perspectives
- Microplastics in Farm Soils: A Growing Concern | EHN
- The EU Is Cracking Down on Plastic. Will Others Follow? | The Japan Times
- Microplastics Found Deep in Lungs of Living People for First Time | The Guardian
- Your Laundry Sheds Harmful Microfibers. Here’s What You Can Do About It. | Wirecutter
- The Most Effective Solution To Stop Microfiber Pollution | PlanetCare
- Recycling | Skeptical Sunday | Jordan Harbinger
- Evidence of Microplastic Translocation in Wild-Caught Fish and Implications for Microplastic Accumulation Dynamics in Food Webs | Environmental Science & Technology
- Shanna Swan | The Reproduction Crisis and Humanity’s Future | Jordan Harbinger
- Thank You For Smoking | Prime Video
- What Are Obesogens, and Should We Be Concerned? | Healthline
- Is Biodegradable and Compostable Plastic Good for the Environment? Not Necessarily | WWF
- The Global Plastic Toxicity Debt | Environmental Science & Technology
- Dr. Richard Kirby (Plankton Pundit) | Twitter
- The “Plastisphere:” A New Marine Ecosystem | Smithsonian Ocean
- Tons of Tire Rubber Is Making Its Way to the Arctic Each Year, Study Suggests | Arctic Today
- Will There Be More Plastic than Fish in the Sea? | WWF
- The Magic of “Multisolving” | Stanford Social Innovation Review
- Multisolving: One Action, Many Benefits | Multisolving Institute
- We’re All Ingesting Microplastics at Home, and These Might Be Toxic for Our Health. Here Are Some Tips to Reduce Your Risk | The Conversation
- 10 Simple Ways to Avoid Microplastics in Your Everyday Life | EcoWatch
- A Proven Solution to Ocean Plastics | Mr. Trash Wheel
818: Matt Simon | How Microplastics Poison the Planet
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Matt Simon: These seas are so thoroughly saturated. They're finding microplastics in extremely high concentrations in the Marianna Trench. The deepest points in the ocean are contaminated with this stuff. There is, I don't think, any reason to believe, especially given nanoplastics being so small and being so common in the air and in the ocean, that these aren't getting into every organism.
[00:00:29] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional four-star general, Russian spy, money laundering expert, or economic hitman. And each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:00:55] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, our episodes starter packs are a great place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic that'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like persuasion and influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, crime, cults, China, North Korea, scams, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started. By the way, you can search for anything we've ever done on the site, any promo code, any Feedback Friday advice, any interview we've ever done using our AI chatbot, jordanharbinger.com/ai is where you can find it.
[00:01:31] Today, plastic rain is the new acid rain, no exaggeration. We are literally bathing it, inhaling it, drinking it, eating it. It's everywhere from the bottom of the Marianna Trench to the top of Mount Everest. Our clothes are made of plastic. Our car tires shed plastic, carpet, water bottles, yoga pants. Those shed plastic. Plastic baby bottles, babies drink millions of these particles each year. It accumulates in our homes, in our food, in our water, in our bodies, and the bodies of our children and our pets. Today on the show, we'll discover how plastic is taking slash has taken over the entire planet. We'll talk about how our microbiome has small communities of bacteria forming right on plastic pieces right around there, moving around the ocean, getting eaten, getting shed out by other organisms, including us, and right back through the system once again. Mothers pass along these plastics along with endocrine disruptors along to their babies that changes the course of their development as humans or animals, whatever kind of baby it is, but all is not lost. Join us today for an exploration of microplastics and nanoplastics and what we can do to dig out from underneath this mountain of plastic under which we have buried ourselves. Here we go with Matthew Simon.
[00:02:48] I think all of us have heard of the plastic patch in the ocean, the size of Texas, but what I didn't really realize until talking to you, which was a fun conversation, is that there's a plastic patch growing inside each and every one of us, which is unfortunately not anywhere near as cute as it sounds.
[00:03:04] Matt Simon: No, I think we have had a lot of publicity, a lot of media attention around these specific garbage patch sorts of situations. All the while we have had really this thorough contamination of the entire planet and essentially every organism in it with little tiny bits of plastic, which scientists didn't really have a grip on until quite recently. It was really the past 10 years, the term microplastic, we wouldn't even coin until 2004. But since then, there has been really this ramping up of research into, first of all, where exactly this stuff is in the environment. We have a good handle on that now. Now more of the attention is turning to the consequences of this truly omnipresent pollutant that is in all these different environments and all these different organisms.
[00:03:51] Jordan Harbinger: I've heard of microplastics but not nanoplastics, and somehow that's even scarier. Look, can we start by defining microplastic and nanoplastic. I think there's plenty of people who've never actually heard the term. They just know it means small plastic.
[00:04:04] Matt Simon: Yeah. So we can start with macroplastic. The big stuff that made bottles and bags, it's floating around on the ocean. The point where a bottler bag breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, it becomes a microplastic when it gets smaller than five millimeters, and that's about the width of a pencil eraser. So on the upper end, you can actually see microplastics with the naked eye, but these get much, much smaller. They get continuously smaller as they're breaking. These plastics are strong but not indestructible. These bonds are kind of splitting and the chemicals are leeching out. And when these particles get smaller as well, they get down into the nanoscale and there's a little bit of a disagreement still on what exactly we should consider that threshold when a microplastic becomes a nanoplastic, but it's typically around a millionth of a meter. This is a very small little particle that can at this point get into not only individual organisms, but individual cells in those bodies.
[00:05:01] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:05:01] Matt Simon: And I think the real concern is that you have a lot of microplastic in the environment and scientists are just starting to quantify nanoplastics, but they're finding much, much more of these, the smaller it gets, the more numerous it gets. That's the ultimate concern here is that scientists are just beginning to look at the small stuff and that's what's getting absolutely everywhere.
[00:05:22] Jordan Harbinger: The amount has been doubling every 15 years since 1941, which is, I guess what, when plastics were made for consumer use and not exclusively for military or in a lab or something like this.
[00:05:33] Matt Simon: Plastics were invented actually in the late 1800s and hadn't really been fully commercialized until World War II, and this started becoming really an omnipresent material in the military. So it's making plexiglass for planes and nylon for parachutes and things like that. And it was really after World War II that production got going in earnest. And since 1940 or so, we have seen an absolutely exponential increase in the amount of plastic for the better part of 80 years. And scientists are finding that maps perfectly to that exponential rise in production. The exponential contamination of microplastics in the environment. They can go and look through something like ocean sediments off the coast of Southern California and go back through the years because these layers accumulate year after year and have actually quantified the perfect mapping of microplastic contamination growing exponentially in those sediments over time, over the decades with the amount of plastic that is produced. And this has been replicated in other kinds of environments, that yes, we have solid evidence that as plastic production continues exponentially, we're going to get exponentially more contamination of the environment.
[00:06:44] Jordan Harbinger: So essentially, it sounds like the plastic record is fossilized in the ocean sediment and the soil. Is this going to form a record of human presence on Earth? Just like we look for fossils and bones and whatever, and the certain layers of the earth, future humans will be able to figure out when we lived by the insane amount of plastic in the layers that we're on top during our time. Is that what you're talking about here?
[00:07:06] Matt Simon: It is going to be an artifact and it's going to be truly embarrassing. I think future generations will look back on this time in just astonishment that we let the plastics industry produce as much of this stuff as they wanted. We can look back again in these sediments and see that the more plastic we produce, the more microplastics are escaping into the environment. And that will fossilize. So actually, there's talk of using this as a marker for human existence on this planet, our impact on this planet, you know, a thousand years from now, whatever our species look like or if an alien species has taken over by that point, who knows if the planet is still inhabitable, that will be a truly baffling marker in the fossil record.
[00:07:48] Jordan Harbinger: I was actually just going to comment that maybe humans won't make it that long as a species. So the problem kind of solves itself. We don't have to worry about being embarrassed by future humans because they're all dead already.
[00:07:58] Matt Simon: Done.
[00:07:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. They ate plastic as babies and died. And I'm not even joking about that. Apparently, babies do eat plastic because we feed them tons of things that are wrapped in plastic, plastic bottles, and we're eating plastic as well. And I wondered kind of how this happens. Is it like fish eat them then other fish eat those fish, we eat the fish that ate that fish? Is that the basic idea here?
[00:08:20] Matt Simon: That was where the concern started a number of years ago when scientists were thinking, "Okay, well, we're finding a lot of this stuff in the ocean. What does that mean for the contamination of the organisms that we eat?" So they have been finding that something like a fish will ingest these particles and it'll reside in their guts and it actually can translocate, it's called through the gut tissues into the other tissues, the muscle tissues that we eat. I think the larger issue is ocean critters that we eat whole. So oysters, mussels, clams, that sort of thing, these are filter feeders. They are pulling in water and filtering out food. But in so doing, also filtering out microplastics and there's been some quantifications of, you know, if you're a religious eater of mussels, you might eat tens of thousands of particles a year that way.
[00:09:07] The bigger issue here is that we should actually be more concerned about what falls on our plate as we're eating. Probably the larger source by far of microplastic contamination of the human body is in indoor air. So we, by one calculation, are inhaling 7,000 particles a day, just because we're absolutely surrounded by plastic in its many forms. So they've actually done some quantifications and have shown that you're probably eating just as many microplastics that are in the food as are falling on the food, on the plate as you're eating it. That's how thoroughly contaminated indoor areas.
[00:09:45] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:09:46] Matt Simon: When you're breathing this stuff, a lot of it's getting probably absorbed into the bloodstream because these nanoplastics are so small that it is quite easy for our lungs to absorb them.
[00:09:54] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So we're breathing them in and we're also eating them because they float around and land on our food from the air, but it doesn't matter because they were already in the food that we cooked anyway if we're eating something that's alive, right? What about a plant?
[00:10:09] Matt Simon: Plants, there's been some interesting research in determining whether they can actually take up these particles through their roots, and that does seem to be the case because these things are getting so small. As these plants are growing, they're absorbing both water and these microplastics and nanoplastics that then gets translocated into the tissues that we eat. The issue here really comes weirdly to laundry. Two-thirds of clothing now is made out of plastic. So nylon polyester, when you wash that, a bunch of those fibers break off into the wash sometimes by some calculations, a million or so fibers per load.
[00:10:45] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:10:45] Matt Simon: And that flushes to a wastewater treatment facility. And the wastewater treatment facility actually ends up sequestering a good amount of those particles in something called sludge, which is human waste that is then applied as fertilizer to fields. The rest of the particles, something like 10 percent of the particles are flushed out to sea in the effluent. But the 90 percent that are captured are in the fertilizer that we're putting on our crops. Billions of pounds a year in a place like Europe or North America. There's just so much of this sludge going onto fields and it's essentially concentrated microplastics. And that's where the concern among crop scientists is, is that we are applying a coating of microplastic to the crops that we eat. And that comes with, you know, both the toxicity of the particle itself, but also these particles act as Trojan horses. They're carrying fecal matter, and they have been shown to have antibiotic-resistant bacteria on them as well. And that's getting into our crops.
[00:11:43] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:11:43] Matt Simon: Yeah, it's a complicated question because there's no escaping these particles. At any point in the food chain, it's getting contaminated with microplastic.
[00:11:51] Jordan Harbinger: If these particles are all over the. They must also impact the soil, not even just by going in the plant, but I would imagine farming when your soil has a ton of plastic in it, that's got to have effects for water and absorption and other types of issues, right?
[00:12:06] Matt Simon: This is one of the reasons why I call microplastics a poison like no other. Something like mercury or lead is, obviously, a toxic acceptance. They're neurotoxins. We know they're terrible for life but they're single elements. Microplastics are this really confounding mixture of at least 10,000 different chemicals that have been used in the production of plastic, a quarter of which scientists consider to be of concern as 2,500 chemicals. Meaning they're just either outright toxic or they're persistent in things like soils or in organisms or in human bodies. So it's also weird because it's this physical thing, right? So as you say, is it changing the properties of the soil? Yes. There has been some research showing that if you're adding a bunch of plastic particles, it's reducing the density of that soil. It actually makes it so more water can evaporate away, which is, you know, increasingly problematic on—
[00:12:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:12:59] Matt Simon: —a planet where we are dealing with droughts. There's actually a paper that came out I think yesterday from the European Union of farmers kind of revolting against this. So they are getting a lot of compost that comes from people throwing out their scraps. We're putting them in bio-based plastics, supposedly compostable, they're not really. It's all plastic. It's all going to break down all the same. And there's farmers in your per saying, we can't do this anymore. There's just too much plastic in this compost, too much microplastic and too much macroplastic, some of the bigger pieces. We are very concerned about the health of our soils among any number of other reasons that plastics aren't getting into soils, just through industrialized agriculture. It's an emergency for sure because we are going to struggle going forward just producing crops on a planet where temperatures are much higher and there's much less water.
[00:13:51] Jordan Harbinger: And you mentioned we inhale these. Has anyone done the math on like how many pieces of plastic we inhale per breath, for example?
[00:14:00] Matt Simon: I haven't seen it done per breath, but it was 7,000 per day. So divided by—
[00:14:05] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:14:05] Matt Simon: —by 24, whatever that number is. I'm terrible at math.
[00:14:08] Jordan Harbinger: That's a lot.
[00:14:08] Matt Simon: It's a lot. And it's going to very much depend person to person. So you might have heard that humans might eat a credit card's worth of plastic every week. That's kind of iffy because we are as individuals exposed to such different amounts of microplastics. So if you are surrounded by more synthetic clothing, for example, there was one calculation that found that just by walking around in synthetic clothing, we might shed a billion fibers a year. Those fall typically to the ground eventually but get kicked up in indoor air. We suspended for us to breathe and the concern here is for children and toddlers who are spending a lot of their time on the floor, rummaging around, kicking up these fibers and inhaling, which is paramount, that we vacuum as much as possible, for instance, to make sure that these particles aren't accumulating in indoor spaces.
[00:15:00] Jordan Harbinger: Geez. Okay. And by the way, it's five particles per minute if you break it down like that, roughly 4.91. Let's round-up. Because who knows? I mean, what's the difference at that point?
[00:15:11] Matt Simon: Sure.
[00:15:11] Jordan Harbinger: Right?
[00:15:12] Matt Simon: Right.
[00:15:13] Jordan Harbinger: You also mentioned that a lot of the particles that we put on our plants and on our farms, whatever they come from, washers. Why not filter the water? Or is this one of those times that a layman makes a really simple suggestion and sounds like an idiot for making it?
[00:15:26] Matt Simon: No, no, not, not in any form whatsoever. No, it's a fantastic question with an infuriating answer. It's that washing machines very well could have these filters on them. Some of them do. We do not have them in the United States because we put filters, the limp filters on our dryers instead. So France is actually leading the way on this, and they're saying that by 2025, all washing machines that come off the production line have to have a built-in microfiber filter. That's just standard now there. But we need those in every washing machine on the planet. And as a sort of stopgap measure, we need more of these aftermarket filters to add to the washing machines that we have at home right now. I have one. It works seemingly pretty well. It's a replaceable filter that you then send it back to the company that then turns it into something useful in the sense that they're using that microplastic in a form that is locked away from the environment.
[00:16:22] So we need those stopgap measures, for sure, because we can't rely on wastewater treatment facilities. There's something like 10,000 of them in the United States alone, and outfitting them with the equipment to capture these microfibers more deliberately would be extremely expensive. And just a logistical nightmare. I guess going even farther back upstream. At the end of the day, we just need clothes that we know are not going to shed as many fibers. We just knew techniques for their construction. But also just as a tip, there has been consistent research showing that the more you wear an article of clothing, the less it emits fibers. So we just need to get away from fast fashion to be sure.
[00:17:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:17:00] Matt Simon: Because that stuff's cheap anyway and breaking down consistently. But we need to be better about wearing clothes for longer, which comes with all sorts of other benefits, you know, not producing as much fabric across the world. So yes, a great question with an infuriating answer is that it was totally possible all along, but these companies just didn't do it.
[00:17:18] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like if that's the point that's creating a ton of these things, it's this little one or two-sheet thing that you could even throw away, which I know is also wasteful, but probably less damaging would cost pennies produced at scale.
[00:17:32] Matt Simon: Yeah.
[00:17:32] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:17:32] Matt Simon: I put out an op-ed a couple of months ago arguing that every government should pay to send one of these filters to each household. They're like 50 bucks. So it'll be a couple of billion of dollars, which is a drop in the bucket as far as government spending is concerned. And the environmental mitigation would be huge if we're stopping these fibers from even getting to a wastewater treatment facility, that's the best option. So until we get legislation in the United States, hopefully, to force washing machine manufacturers to put these filters in by default. It's unfortunately up to us as consumers to clean up this mess for these companies that have created it.
[00:18:10] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's always like that. And we'll talk about recycling in a bit because I did a whole show about it and it turned out to be like 99 percent BS. But I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier called translocation. And this is terrifying. Tell me about this. This is just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it gets worse.
[00:18:26] Matt Simon: Yeah. Translocation has been studied in largely fish. So when we're talking here, okay, we know that if a fish is swimming through the sea, there's a lot of microplastics there. What is it ingesting? And would that be okay in a certain sense if that microplastic just goes through the digestive system without getting caught in the fish? But that is not always the case. We are finding that lots of oceanic organisms are showing up with these particles in their bellies. So then, scientists started thinking, "Okay, well, is that particle somehow going to get through the lining of the stomach, the gut, and into these other tissues that we then eat? And they have shown that yes, quite easily, especially these very small particles readily passed through the gut.
[00:19:11] This has also been shown in mouse models. Mouse models obviously used as a proxy for humans. We're not mice, but you have to do these studies on mice first to see what might apply also to humans. These are also passing through the guts of mice and into the tissues of their body. They're also showing that mother mice will expose to these particles, send these particles to their children. Human mothers are, we know, for sure, are doing the same because we are finding microplastics not only in human blood and guts and lungs and all sorts of other tissues, we're finding them in placentas and we're finding them in an infant's first feces, which means that the child has been exposed to microplastics, through the mother before it's even born. We don't know the consequences of that. We know for sure that it is not good to have pieces of my microplastic, especially in an infant body. Especially considering that so many of the chemical components in microplastics are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals or EDCs, which means they really muck with the hormone system and you do not want that in a developing child. The issue, and I think the question here now is how much is too much. How much microplastic is going to be too much in the human body before we start seeing effects? That is an unanswered question, but I think in the coming years we will see much, much more of that research.
[00:20:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. We actually did a whole show on EDCs with Dr. Shanna Swan. She's really focused on this.
[00:20:41] Matt Simon: Oh, she's great. Yeah.
[00:20:41] Jordan Harbinger: That was episode 658, by the way. And it's scary because these things are everywhere. You're rubbing them on your body or whatever you're eating them like we just discussed with translocation and whatever else gets these into our system and they can mess with your hormones. And for adults, it's like, okay, maybe, and I say this lightly as if it's light, maybe there's an increased cancer risk because of these endocrine disruptors. But for babies, you just need a whole lot less to screw up a baby brain or a baby body than you do an adult. And if it's bad for adults, it's almost certainly bad for babies. And we just don't know how much and babies are on the floor and putting plastic stuff in their mouth. And so they're just exposed to even more of this with less ability to resist it and a higher susceptibility to whatever this stuff does. So it's really, really scary to think about. And the endocrine-disrupting thing is only going to get worse as we create more and more of this.
[00:21:34] Matt Simon: I'm not sure if this came up in Europe, so we're showing up but the way that endocrine-disrupting chemicals work is particularly nefarious in that when we think of something being toxic, it's usually the more you get, the more toxic it is. Like it's a straight line plotted on the graph.
[00:21:50] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[00:21:50] Matt Simon: But the way that EDCs work is quite different and quite strange, and that you can get a lot of toxicity at a very small dose. As you increase that dose, that toxicity goes down and kind of flattens out of the bottom. But then as you increase it akin it goes up. So it's a U-shape—
[00:22:05] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:05] Matt Simon: —instead of a typical straight line. And if we're thinking about microplastics being these very small particles, are we getting enough of them in our body and enough of these EDCs in our bodies to have an impact? And it's important to note that there is research on chemicals that are in plastics exclusively. So plasticizer chemicals, they're in plastics, that's where we're getting them. One study connected them to 100,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. And that was a conservative estimate. So those chemicals are coming from plastics. We don't know fully yet. Is that because so much of the single-use plastic is in touch with our foods and water that we're eating? Or is there also a contribution of microplastics to that as it were, especially inhaling them? These EDCs, you do not need a tremendous amount of them to have a really terrible effect on the body.
[00:23:01] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Matthew Simon. We'll be right back. Now for something that doesn't make a terrible permanent impact on the environment.
[00:23:11] This episode is sponsored in part by mill industries. Quite the opposite. They're actually doing something really good for the environment. A third of the food the US produces gets wasted. Surprise, surprise. I mean, have you seen kids? I'm just going to let that sink in for a bit. That's 54 million tons of food waste every year. All that food, it goes into landfills. It generates methane, which is one of the biggest emissions offenders. You thought fossil fuels were bad food waste is actually worse in many ways. And I have to admit, we are also guilty of throwing away tons of food. We got leftovers, we got produce that's gone bad. We got kids that wanted something every five minutes before and now they don't want it and they never want to see it. And it all gets wasted. So now, finally, there's something you can do to keep kitchen scraps out of landfills and have a positive impact on the environment. It's called mill. The mill bin is one of the best things we got this year. I'm happy to shill this thing. It is a modern-looking bin where you can throw all of your uneaten food into. So I've thrown an entire rotisserie chicken. It was so dry, nobody was going to finish it. That one was on me. We put our mill to the test. When our power was out for two days. We had to empty out the entire fridge, talk about food waste, and it was amazing what the mill is capable of. You can throw in fish, chicken bones, blocks of cheese, onion, citrus, peels, stuff that you could never throw into a vermicompost. What the mill does is it turns food waste into food grounds. It grinds them. It dries them, it shrinks it. It de-stinks it. The thing doesn't smell. I can't actually believe it. We've thrown some gross stuff in there, and it does not smell even right next to it. We save loads of garbage space by putting uneaten food in the mill instead of in the trash. It's really quiet. You can control it through an app. We threw things in for weeks and once it was full, we put the contents into a prepaid return box and milk will work to turn the food grounds into food for chicken, because feeding animals is probably the most effective use of uneaten food according to the EPA and the UN. Right? Something else just eats it that we then eat membership costs about a dollar a day, includes everything, the bin food, ground shipping, the app, regular impact reports, so you can see how you're making a diff. Mill is now shipping. Supplies are limited. Reserve your mill membership today at mill.com/jordan. That's mill.com/jordan to reserve your membership. Get mill and keep the landfill out of your kitchen.
[00:25:20] This episode is also sponsored by Better Help. If you're going through a tough time, you are definitely not alone. I've been there, we've all been there. Therapy, I recommended a lot on Feedback Friday. It's not just lip service. Therapy is one of the best things that you can do for yourself, and Better Help is a great way to dip your toes into the water of therapy, as I like to say. And of course, I don't like driving. I don't like parking. I don't like sitting on a couch. I certainly wouldn't lay on a couch that a bunch of other people have laid on that I don't even know. I think it's kind of gross. With Better Help's amazing platform, you can do chat, phone, or video sessions. I just, I have an easier time opening up when I'm in the comfort of my own home or out for a walk and talking over the phone instead of in front of a stranger in their office, which maybe smells funny. I don't know. Is that just a me thing? Couches smell too. Anyway, I digress. Therapy is vulnerable work. Better Help doesn't feel intimidating at all. Better Help will match you with a therapist that is tailored to your needs, but they also understand you're not going to mesh with everyone, so you can easily switch any therapist whenever you want. No extra charge. You just let their support know and you don't even have to talk to the therapist if you don't feel comfortable. And how's that for capitulating to your avoidance issues? Check out Better Help's over 94,000 reviews on the iPhone app if you're still skeptical. And if you're on the fence, take this as a sign from the old universe to go and try it out.
[00:26:33] Matt Simon: If you want to live a more empowered life, therapy can get you there. Visit betterhelp.com/jordan to get 10 percent off your first month. That's better-H-E-L-P.com/jordan.
[00:26:44] Jordan Harbinger: If you're wondering how I managed to book all these amazing folks for the show, all these authors, thinkers, creators, it's all about networking. And I know that that's a dirty, gross word, and networking is kind of a schmoozy, yucky word, but you can do it in a non-cringe way, and I'm teaching you how to do that at jordanharbinger.com/course. The course is about improving your relationship skills and helping you do that with other people. Again, in a non-cringey, non-schmoozy, down-to-earth kind of way. It's not awkward, it's not cheesy, it's practical, and more importantly, it doesn't take a lot of time. Six minutes a day is all it's going to take to become a better colleague, a better friend, a better peer. And many of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong. You can find the course again for free at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[00:27:29] Now back to Matthew Simon.
[00:27:32] You mentioned in the book something like sardines are so contaminated that if you eat three of them, you end up with a grain of rice of microplastic in your system. So a lot of people might be thinking, "Oh, invisible levels of plastic, nothing I can do about it. It can't be that much." And again, yeah, we probably excrete that, but that could also be an endocrine disruptor and there's just kind of no way for us to tell the appropriate dose of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, I guess. I know that sounds weird. It almost reminds me of that movie, Thank You for Smoking. Have you seen this movie where he gets kidnapped by activists and they slap all those nicotine patches on him? And then, he's like, "Thank God I was smoking so much that I had a tolerance for this nicotine smoking saved my life." It reminds me of that, like, well, the solution for microplastics in our environment is to add a ton more so that the U-shaped curve gets activated and then the damage is lessened.
[00:28:21] Matt Simon: You just got to get on that trough.
[00:28:22] Jordan Harbinger: You just got to get in the trough.
[00:28:23] Matt Simon: You're going to be okay. It's a balancing act. It's a delicate one but I think we can do it. No, no, no. And, and we can talk about mitigation later, but day-to-day there's so little that we can do at the moment. Like just you and I sitting here right now. We're inhaling this stuff. We need mitigation on so many levels, and I think it can be done, but we're going to get, you know, like the tobacco, we're going to get a tremendous amount of pushback from the plastics industry, which would very much like to keep producing as much plastic as it possibly could. We are producing a trillion pounds of plastic a year.
[00:29:00] Jordan Harbinger: A trillion pounds.
[00:29:02] Matt Simon: Yeah.
[00:29:02] Jordan Harbinger: God.
[00:29:02] Matt Simon: Any material, that's a lot, but one of plastic's charms is that it's so light. Like you need a lot of plastic to make a trillion pounds of plastic a year.
[00:29:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:29:11] Matt Simon: So it's just like, given the opportunity, they will keep producing exponentially more plastics. And again, returning to this idea that as we produce exponentially more scientists are fighting exponentially more microplastics in the environment. So in the book, I talk about a number of demonstrated harms that we already know for organisms in the environment. But you know, what organism might not be suffering today from microplastics exposure may very well be in five, 10, 20 years as these concentrations go up exponentially. That is the urgency and that is why we cannot wait to act on this. And we cannot let the industry bamboozle into thinking something like recycling is going to fix everything.
[00:29:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I want to talk about recycling as well. Just, before we do though, you mentioned in the book, obesogens and I was wondering if the endocrine disruption coming from plastic could be part of this problem. Obesogens, for people that haven't heard of this, are chemicals in the environment that can actually contribute to obesity. You know, we take potshots at food companies and stuff like that on the show as well, but it's not always just the food that we eat that causes this. A lot of times people have real hormonal issues that cause their obesity or contribute to their obesity and it seems like plastics could be one of those things. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it seems like that's what you might be saying.
[00:30:26] Matt Simon: I mean, there's some speculation amongst scientists that, you know, obviously it's not plastics that have caused the obesity crisis across the world. But could they be a contributing factor by way of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are known obesogens? There was at least one paper that I talked about in the book where they very explicitly saying we need to look at this quite emphatically because one of the ways that we can actually very quickly reduce that is to just surround ourself with fewer single-use plastics. The tricky thing with microplastics research in human health is teasing apart the contributions of microplastics and any number of other sources of chemicals in the environment. Again, at least 10,000 different chemicals used in plastics, a quarter of which are of concern. That's a lot. And like which—
[00:31:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:31:16] Matt Simon: —ones do we need to be most concerned about? Also, thinking about the organisms in the environment, one organism might be very sensitive to a particular chemical that another doesn't really care about. So there I talk in the book about tire particles in Washington state, they're microplastics, tires are essentially plastics now. They wash up into rivers and kill salmon in mass. And there's a very specific chemical that is doing that. And these scientists did some interesting sleuthing to find that. Further studies have found other fish that are sensitive to that chemical. How many more out there are dying because of tire particles that are microplastics, but how many other chemicals, entire particles or microplastics generally might be affecting organisms that we don't know about and might not know about until it's really too late?
[00:32:02] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned recycling earlier. What's the issue here? I've done, again, shows debunking recycling, but a trillion pounds is a lot, I'm guessing we are not recycling a trillion pounds of plastic every year.
[00:32:13] Matt Simon: Far from it. The truly tragic reality is that in the United States, the recycling rate is five percent now.
[00:32:21] Jordan Harbinger: Oof.
[00:32:22] Matt Simon: Historically, it has been nice percent across the world. We were bamboozled by the plastics industry. So they were very much all about recycling. So what that did was shunt the responsibility onto us as consumers. So it's our fault that this stuff is escaping into the environment. If only we would recycle more, if we'd be more responsible, we could have this beautiful circular economy where we don't really have to produce that much more plastic because so much of it's just in recirculation. The fallacy there obviously is that the plastics industry wouldn't need to keep producing exponentially more plastic if recycling worked.
[00:32:58] There are countries like Germany that actually do recycling quite well. They're recycling more like 50 percent of their plastic. The issue in the United States and other developed countries is that historically we have shipped massive quantities of the plastics that we cannot profitably recycle. That's a key phrase here because it's not that recycling has been impossible. It hasn't been profitable to do so, and under the capitalist system that we have in the United States, it's not a municipal thing, right? It's like these are for-profit companies. That should have always been the government massively taxing these plastics companies to fund massive recycling programs. But instead, we've been shipping so much of the stuff overseas where it's either burned in open pits or just escapes into the environment. These are developing countries that we're saddling with this extremely toxic substance, especially if they're having a burn it because they don't have any room.
[00:33:47] So going forward, I do see a role for recycling and I think a lot of plastic scientists and activists would say the same, but it's not a crutch because the industry will, again, use it to produce more and more plastic. At the end of the day, we just need to make less of the stuff. There's no substitute for that because we don't want to surround ourselves with this stuff that we know to be toxic in its various form. So, yeah, maybe more recycling, but we cannot rely on us to get us out of this crisis.
[00:34:17] Jordan Harbinger: What about biodegradable plastics? You know, I see those utensils come in and I'm like, great. It's biodegradable, but I don't know. It sure feels like plastic. I'm tempted to bury one and dig it up in a few months and see if it's gone, but I just, I kind of feel like it's going to take, yeah, it's biodegradable. Maybe it only takes 50 years instead of thousand. I don't know.
[00:34:34] Matt Simon: Scientists have already done that actually with some interesting results.
[00:34:37] Jordan Harbinger: I assumed.
[00:34:38] Matt Simon: Yeah. So they took biodegradable plastics and dropped them in the ocean for months, years, and found that they didn't really biodegrade at all. They would bury them and found that it maybe biodegraded a little bit, but it was still intact enough to actually carry stuff in a plastic bag. The issue with biodegradable is that the bag isn't disappearing, right? It's just been deconstructed. It's exploded into microplastics. Theoretically, biodegradable means that just happens faster, but that is usually under a certain set of conditions, and that is in an industrial composting facility where the temperatures are very, very high. You don't get that in a typical backyard if you have a compostable bag. And especially if any of those biodegradable bags escape into the environment out in the ocean, the temperatures are not very, very high. And it's just the different conditions that the bag was not designed for.
[00:35:33] So it's a plastic all the same. And it's a plastic because it has all these chemicals that make it a plastic that are the ones that are scientists are concerned about. And you'll hear about, you know, biobased plastics, which are just plastics, where the carbon comes from plants like corn, and that are from fossil fuels. It has all the same chemicals that hold it together to be a tough plastic. So these are not the answer. I think there's going to be room for new materials that move away from just kind of the general idea of plastic. So, you know, like mushroom-based or bacteria-based perhaps that can replace some packaging, but we have to make sure that they are in fact, biodegradable. And when they do so, they are not toxic. That's a very tall order.
[00:36:16] So I just cautioned people to be very skeptical about such things because given the opportunity, the industry will push these out and say, "Oh, look how green we've become. We're not the same plastics industry. Don't worry about us."
[00:36:28] Jordan Harbinger: In the book, you've mentioned that dumping plastic into the environment is racking up. You called it a toxicity debt in terms of how toxins are released by the plastic. Tell me what that means.
[00:36:38] Matt Simon: This was a concept proposed in a paper that I believe came out in 2020, 2021. These scientists were saying, okay, well, here's the issue. We have a lot of bags and bottles and other macroplastics. The big stuff, floating around out there, especially in the ocean. And over time they are breaking into microplastics. One of the big things is UV radiation if a bag is floating around is bombarded by sunlight.
[00:37:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:37:06] Matt Simon: That tends to break apart the bonds in plastics, releases microplastics, releases the component chemicals in those plastic, many of which we know to be extremely toxic. So they're saying, even if we were to somehow stop releasing plastic into the environment tomorrow, we would have this debt of toxicity. Because all this stuff is still out there. It's still breaking into smaller and smaller bits. And when it does, it becomes available for more organisms to eat. So like a sea turtle can choke on a plastic bag. They're not nearly as many creatures that big in the ocean that can choke on the big stuff.
[00:37:43] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:37:44] Matt Simon: There are far, far more creatures that are very tiny that can eat these microplastics and choke on them. I encourage people to look up Plankton Pundit. He's a scientist who has really good videos on his Twitter feed about plankton. He has been looking at these creatures ingest these microfibers and essentially choking on them. So this is the debt that we've racked up. It is not so simple as just shutting off the tap of plastic because we then have to reckon with what's already out there. It's not disappearing. It's again, just breaking into smaller and smaller bits. It's out there, just in a deconstructed form.
[00:38:18] Jordan Harbinger: In the book, you mentioned something called the plastisphere. What is this? This sounds like, I don't know, a new ecosystem based around plastic. Is that accurate?
[00:38:27] Matt Simon: It's actually really fascinating, I guess, in a morbid kind of way. So, these little pieces of plastic floating around up there turn out to be extraordinarily biodiverse in their own way. It's odd. So when you put these things under a microscope, you can find just a really teeming community. Bacteria and viruses, even larvae of small creatures can attach to these pieces of plastic and hitch a ride. And it's been termed the plastisphere. It's a new concept. It's essentially a new ecosystem on planet Earth that we have created by loading the planet with plastic. Unfortunately, they have also been finding lots of nasty bacteria in particular on these little pieces of plastics in the plastisphere. Vibrio is one of them. This is responsible for some of the violent sickness that you get from seafood that has been found on microplastics.
[00:39:21] Here's a fun thought experiment. A little microplastic can grow this plastisphere and a fish mistakes it for food. Like it sees it coated in something that might smell nice to it, and it consumes it. That microplastic passes through a digestive system comes out through the other side. Scientists are showing that these microplastics very readily come out of the ocean. So they come to the service in bubbles, and when those bubbles pop, it flings the microplastics into the air. They then blow onto land in sea breezes. So when you're at the beach, you're inhaling microplastics that have come from the ocean and potentially inhaling microplastics that pass through the gut of a fish. And again, the scientists are finding these nasty bacteria on them. Nobody's really linked any sort of sickness to microplastics with bacteria hitching a ride on them. But this is, again, the Trojan horse effect that we don't have to just worry about the component chemicals in these microplastics, but what pathogens that could be transporting into our body, especially if we're, again, coming back to microplastics, coming off of our clothing, passing through human sewage and being applied to fields. Is that transporting some of these pathogens onto our foods? It hasn't been shown yet, but I would not be surprised if that's eventually the case.
[00:40:38] Jordan Harbinger: Geez. Okay. So animals in the sea either eat them or I think Coral was using it in their home, or maybe even other animals are using it in their home in the sea. What percentage of sea life has microplastics in it? Do we know? Is it just everything now?
[00:40:54] Matt Simon: It is not unsafe to assume that it's everything. So anywhere scientists look they're finding these particles. You mentioned coral. There is good research showing that they're actually incorporating these microplastics into their the hard shell of the coral that we know as the coral. It's actually a bigger portion of the animal. They're actually little tiny polyps. They're animals that filter feed out of the water like clams and oysters do. But when they're catching food, they're also catching microplastics that they incorporate into the calcium carbonate shells essentially, that they build. They have also been shown to be toxic to these coral polyps as well.
[00:41:33] These seas are so thoroughly saturated. They're finding microplastics in extremely high concentrations in the Mariana Trench. The deepest points in the ocean are contaminated with this stuff. There is, I don't think any reason to believe, especially given nanoplastics being so small and being so common in the air and in the ocean, that these aren't getting into every organism. It again comes back to how much is too much. But there's speculation that this is contributing to the problems that corals are having in addition to ocean acidification and ocean warming. How much is microplastic contributing? Not quite sure yet, but again, not a good thing to have in any organism. That is for sure.
[00:42:14] Jordan Harbinger: So if it's in the Mariana Trench, then I'm going to go out on a limb here and say pretty much every surface animal, then we'll have it too. Because if we're mostly making these things and discarding them on the surface and it's somehow made its way to the deepest part of the entire ocean, then they got to be in every surface animal and probably every bit of sea life.
[00:42:34] Matt Simon: Yeah.
[00:42:35] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[00:42:35] Matt Simon: We haven't even talked about the atmospheric stuff yet.
[00:42:37] Jordan Harbinger: No, we'll get there.
[00:42:38] Matt Simon: Yeah. It's so thoroughly saturated the air as well. And new research on nanoplastics has shown that if you're standing on a remote mountaintop in Europe, in the Alps, just by standing there, there are hundreds of millions of these nanoplastics falling on your shoulders. There is so much of this in the atmosphere. There's been more quantifications of microplastics, which are again smaller than five millimeters, but when you get to the nanoscale below a millionth of a meter, it is a fundamental component of the atmosphere now. And because of the way the atmosphere works, it has blown everywhere essentially.
[00:43:14] I visit a scientist in the book and I hiked up a mountain with her in Utah, and we go to see one of the atmospheric instruments that she captures, stuff falling out of the sky, and she's using that to quantify just how much of this is falling out. It is a lot. She was saying that this has been out of control for so long that it's impossible to pinpoint where a particular microplastic in her samples fell from. So like did it come from a city get taken up in the atmosphere, fall in remote Utah. She can't tell because this stuff is all mixed together. So you get tire particles in there, you get microfibers, you get chunks of bags and bottles and stuff that have all taken to the air and mixed into this great big microplastic soup in the sky.
[00:43:55] Jordan Harbinger: So if it's falling in remote mountaintops, what about the Arctic, Antarctica? I know you mentioned that this is everywhere, so what is that doing to these remote places in ecosystems?
[00:44:06] Matt Simon: Yeah, they're finding a lot of it actually in the Arctic in particular because that is relatively close to Europe obviously. So they are showing, especially a lot of car tire particles, these microplastics on sea ice, which is not where car tire particles belong and they can do some modeling and show that, yes, winds were blowing at this time and that was coming from Europe. This stuff is so light and so tiny that it very easily goes airborne. And the issue with the Arctic is that they're concerned that because plastics are, again, this physical thing in the environment, this very strange sort of pollutant because they're often dark colored, blues, browns, blacks, any kind of color that you can imagine a plastic being. There's a concern that if that's falling in the Arctic in enough concentrations, that can actually help absorb with that dark material more of the sun's energy, and actually contribute to the loss of sea ice. They're finding also a lot of it swirling in the ocean in the Arctic and these are very delicate ecosystems that are not used to having plastic particles. The stuff in the ocean is coming from largely Europe's wastewater treatment facilities that, like anywhere else in the world, pump out microfibers in the effluent that go out to see. They're finding a lot of microfibers, in particular in the Arctic. It's thoroughly corrupted and nowhere really on the planet is safe because this stuff has gone fully atmospheric.
[00:45:32] Jordan Harbinger: Do we know at which point plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean? That's the stat that gets thrown around and makes people gasp, but I always forget when we expect that to happen.
[00:45:41] Matt Simon: That's 2050.
[00:45:42] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:45:42] Matt Simon: By 2050, there's one calculation that all of the plastic in the ocean is going to outweigh all the fish, which is not particularly ideal, but also by 2050 and that's why they're basing on this calculation is that we will have a tripling of production of plastic by 2050 from 2016 levels. So by 2050, it'll be trillions of pounds of plastic a year. And I hate to harp on this, but this is the urgency, is that as we produce exponentially more, there is a very clear link between the exponential rise in microplastic pollution in the environment. So with outweighing all the fish, it's obviously all the bags and the bottles and stuff. But think of those as, essentially it's pre-microplastic. Anything that you can see floating out there is just going to break into smaller and smaller bits. It hasn't disappeared, it's just distributed more broadly in the environment.
[00:46:40] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Matthew Simon. We'll be right back.
[00:46:44] This episode is sponsored in part by Grammarly. There are a lot of tools, actually there are not a lot of tools, there's a few tools that I use every day and that I can't live without Grammarly as one of them. I've used Grammarly for a long, long time. It's like having somebody over my shoulder gently, not in an annoying way, reminding me ways that I could improve my written communication to be more clear, concise, and professional. I actually, I'm one of those guys that I will type something out in a flurry, and then I read it like the next day and I go, "Ooh, it sounded a little curt, a little rude. Maybe I should have paused and thought about how this is going to land." I've gotten in trouble for that here and there, and I don't even have a real job you all. So I can imagine how, what happens to other people when they do this. But one of Grammarly's awesome features is the tone detector, which gives you feedback on how your message comes across. Again, I need the tone detector working in the background of my real life, but so far, Grammarly only works on the computer and phone. Alas, I don't have it, actually, in my brain, which is where I really need it, but it's really easy to implement. It runs in the background in everything that I write online. Just install the plugin or browser extension and you are good to go. And Grammarly will underline incorrect words or grammar and show you what to replace it with, and it'll make you sound smarter. Can't hate that. The right tone can move any project forward when you get it right with Grammarly. Go to grammarly.com/tone to download and learn more about Grammarly Premium's advanced tone suggestions. That's G-R-A-M-M-A-R-L-Y.com/tone.
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[00:49:45] Now for the rest of my conversation with Matthew Simon.
[00:49:50] You mentioned tires a lot here. People give off half a pound to 10 pounds per year of microplastics according to what you wrote, depending on the country they live in. I'm guessing the worst offender has to be the United States. Not because we're bad people, but we do use a lot of stuff. We buy a lot of stuff, we buy a lot of fast fashion, and we drive a lot. And you keep mentioning tires, so I'm guessing that happens when the tires get used.
[00:50:13] Matt Simon: Yeah. So you need to replace your tires every so often because they have obviously worn down. But that, wear, where do you think the tire has gone? Well, it's broken down into tiny, tiny pieces and has just distributed broadly in the environment. When I mentioned the fish in Washington state, that happens after rain. So the first rains come and wash all those tire particles off of roads and into river system. In a place like the United States, obviously where we drive a lot, too much, obviously we get much more emissions of these microplastics from tires. And I should just clarify that tires are plastic because it's synthetic rubber. Now, it's not just made out of pure rubber from forest. We just lose all of our rubber trees if we supply all that natural rubber. So it's a big component of them are synthetic rubbers. It's a kind of plastic, these are classified as microplastics.
[00:51:06] When I talk about mitigation, I love these solutions that solve a bunch of things at once. This is known as multi-solving in climate activism. It's that if you do something like increased public transportation, you get cars off the roads, you get fewer microplastics because they're fewer tires on the roads, you reduce emissions and you just generally take cars off the roads so they're not killing as many people a year, especially in the United States. So there are ways to mitigate microplastics that are actually good on a number of different levels. We should do them just because of microplastics mitigation but for any number of other things.
[00:51:44] Jordan Harbinger: I found it interesting in your book you wrote when, so when animals eat these plastics, especially sea life, the plastic pellets they make the poop attached to them sink more slowly, which means they get eaten by other animals in the middle of the ocean that feed on the fecal matter of other animals. And since they're sinking more slowly, the animals at the bottom of the ocean who also rely on these poop pellets, they get less because there's more transit time from higher up in the ocean to down in the ocean. It's amazing to me that we have figured this out and I mean, just imagine who knew that poop flotation mattered. Somebody got their PhD in that. I'm just saying th there's a marine poop professor out there somewhere whose claim to fame is that they figured this out. And frankly, it's quite impressive that they did.
[00:52:31] Matt Simon: Yeah, more marine poop professors than you know. There's a lot of people working on this, and—
[00:52:35] Jordan Harbinger: I guess.
[00:52:36] Matt Simon: —this is coming back to this idea of it being a poison like no other. It is truly bizarre in its reach. So these scientists figured out that if you feed copepods, these are, it's a kind of plankton. So plankton is a mixture of both microscopic plants, known as phytoplankton, but also little tiny animals, like fish larvae, some little crustaceans, these are what Copa pods are make up this big cloud of plants and animals at the surface of the ocean, the very base of the oceanic food web because so many things dine on this stuff and then themselves get eaten. So these researchers thought, "Okay, well, here's an interesting experiment. Let's feed copepods a bunch of microplastics and see what that does to their pellets that come out the other end of them." This is important because those pellets end up sequestering carbon. So if those copos are eating the phytoplankton in which have themselves absorb carbon like any other plant as it grew, and that pellet sinks down to the bottom of the sea floor. This is a well-known, well-established mechanism for sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere, locking it down in the depths.
[00:53:46] So what these researchers found was that unfortunately, if you change the consistency of these pellets by adding a bunch of microplastics to the diet, it makes it sink much slower, much slower. So what that then could potentially do is open that up to more of the scavengers, kind of in that middle of the ocean that would dine on that. So they themselves would get more of a chance to eat this carbon, and that keeps it from reaching the sea floor. So we might be losing, I don't know if we're there yet, but if we get more and more microplastics and copepods are eating more and more of these things and their pellets are changing on a wide scale. Are we going to lose this very important method for sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere? Yes. It's a fascinating field of research copepods' poo but it turns out to be extraordinarily important for climate change as well.
[00:54:38] Jordan Harbinger: What are some of the common things that we eat that have tons of plastic in them and we might not realize it? You mentioned fish. What else?
[00:54:46] Matt Simon: Anything that is in contact with plastic, especially so—
[00:54:52] Jordan Harbinger: So everything.
[00:54:53] Matt Simon: So everything. So when we talked about fish and we talked about plants growing fields, potentially absorbing microplastics. It's probably not going to be as much from the source as it is from the packaging and shipping and being in our homes.
[00:55:09] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:55:10] Matt Simon: So one of the things I tell people is to never, under any circumstances, heat or freeze plastics do not microwave things in plastic under any circumstances beyond the UV radiation that I already mentioned, that breaks apart plastics quite readily. Plastics fall apart when you heat and freeze them. Do not do that. That sheds these microplastics, but also causes the component chemicals in that plastic packaging to leach into the food.
[00:55:35] So what we can do obviously is very much cut back on the use of single-use plastic in packaging for food switch. Other materials like glass and aluminum and cardboard. I don't know how many folks have been able to buy strawberries in like essentially boxes. It's a cardboard clamshell really. Why aren't all strawberries packaged in cardboard? Why are we putting them in plastic still? It's things like that. It's like if we get enough momentum among consumers who are starting to push back on this, that we don't need all of our food to be wrapped in this stuff. Cucumbers and potatoes and stuff like that are wrapped in single-use plastic in the supermarket, which is madness. Again, our descendants are going to look back in absolute astonishment, as to what we let the plastics industry do to us and to the planet, completely unnecessary. But, yeah, when it comes to food and water, do not heat or freeze them under any circumstances and just use them as less as possible.
[00:56:35] Jordan Harbinger: Did wearing masks during the pandemic do anything to stop us from inhaling microplastics?
[00:56:40] Matt Simon: Yes, there was a study that actually found that masks do keep a significant amount of the microplastics that are floating around in indoor air from getting into your lungs in addition to COVID which is a good thing to keep from getting—
[00:56:54] Jordan Harbinger: Well, don't, you're going to get people triggered—
[00:56:57] Matt Simon: Yeah.
[00:56:57] Jordan Harbinger: —on this one.
[00:56:58] Matt Simon: Well, yeah.
[00:56:58] Jordan Harbinger: But yeah, so we just eat them instead, and then we throw the mask in the ocean, which is made of a bajillion or becomes a bajillion microplastics after that, that we later. It's like we don't inhale it, but then we eat it later times a million.
[00:57:11] Matt Simon: Right. Yeah, no, so mask is good but—
[00:57:15] Jordan Harbinger: But then not.
[00:57:16] Matt Simon: Well, if they're disposed of in improper way. I think what really shows is the massive contribution to indoor air in particular, it seems across many different cities that there's maybe six times the amount of microplastics in indoor air than there is in outdoor air, which is wild because we spend something like 90 percent of our time indoors. And it's going to require better air filters, like air purifiers in homes. We got to be careful there because those are also made out of plastic. Like, because everything is made out of plastic. There's a study that found that, like an air conditioning system actually does a pretty good job of when it sucks in air, it filters out microplastics, but then can tend to expel microplastics because all the innards are made out of plastic anyway. So we need more studies finding the sources and the ways to sequester these particles. But indoor air is really where it's most heavily contaminated.
[00:58:10] Jordan Harbinger: I have air filters because I don't want stuff from the outside and I can imagine it's filtering out dust in all these, I don't know, VOCs, volatile organic compounds.
[00:58:17] Matt Simon: Yeah.
[00:58:17] Jordan Harbinger: And then it's like, but don't think you have clean air, Jordan. Here's a bunch of plastic from the filter that's cleaning out the other stuff—
[00:58:24] Matt Simon: Yes.
[00:58:24] Jordan Harbinger: —instead. Ah, it's so frustrating.
[00:58:27] Matt Simon: Yeah. And also think about nanoplastic. A filter that might be really good at filtering out very small particles may well not be good enough if we're talking about plastic particles that get down to a millionth of a meter.
[00:58:41] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:58:41] Matt Simon: These are very small. So I think, going forward, I assume that in the coming years we're going to have companies come out saying that they've solved this. They've produced a filter that perfectly filters microplastics out of indoor air. I would be skeptical of such things.
[00:58:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Well, there's one air purifier and it's like, "We take the volatile organic compound and then we destroy it with UV light." And I was like, do we want to combust or whatever, this toxic thing also inside the house. Like I'd rather you trap it and then I throw it out in three months or clean it off or whatever the thing is with the filter. I don't know if you need to incinerate things in my baby's room. That doesn't seem any better. So there's a lot of these sort of gimmicky things, like you said, where a company will say, "We have no microplastics." And then it'll be like, oh, I wonder how they do that. And it'll be like, "We use asbestos trademark to clean out our air. There's no microplastics in here." Yeah. It's just going to end up being another thing like that. Yeah, we have a proprietary blend of other stuff that turns out to be way more toxic than microplastic that we used to get the plastic out of the air.
[00:59:43] Matt Simon: Bring them back to the asbestos is always good.
[00:59:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. What could go wrong?
[00:59:46] Matt Simon: Something that's really important to consider going forward is that we need ways of sequestering these fibers and indoor air.
[00:59:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:59:54] Matt Simon: But we need also ways to safely dispose of that stuff. So if you have like a washing machine filter and you pull out the fibers that it's capture. And put it into a trashcan. That's no guarantee that that's actually going to not take to the air at some point in the trash management process. So, we need to really treat this stuff as toxic waste because it is, and we need ways to not only capture them, air filters, wash machine filters, that sort of thing, but we need ways also to dispose of it. It has to be a full cycle. Unfortunately, it's going to be difficult to solve, but maybe it'll happen.
[01:00:32] Jordan Harbinger: I think not in 300 years, it's going to be illegal to dig down to the level of soil where we are without special precautions. Like you need to build something. Well, you need to build a tent over this with a vacuum seal because you're going to break the plastic barrier where in the 2000s we had just tons and tons of crap in the soil and they don't want that to get released. People are going to go, "Wait, let me get this straight. You wore plastic clothing and you sent it through the washer, and then you sent it through the dryer, and then when you were cleaning the dryer filter, you reached in with your hand, ripped it off, that thing, throwing millions of these things into the air while you just breathed it in, and then you shoved it into a trashcan where it blew around all over your house, all around outside. A truck came by, threw it in there, trailed plastic all through there, and then dumped it outside in a big pit where it just shot every, like, you might as well have eaten the damn lint filter yourself because—
[01:01:21] Matt Simon: Yeah.
[01:01:21] Jordan Harbinger: You eventually did, anyway.
[01:01:22] Matt Simon: Two things there. So one is that we need to be also careful, unfortunately, now about cotton and wool. So natural fibers are oftentimes coated in plastic to make them waterproof or flame retardant. So nothing is pure anymore. Nothing is sacred. But yeah, two, there's a clothing now made out of plastic, but the other third, that's no guarantee that it doesn't have the same chemicals associated with it. And two, when it comes to this toxic side of plastics, I mean, just look at what happened in Ohio, right? That was a train carrying vinyl chloride, which is used to make PVC plastic. Vinyl chloride is a well-known carcinogen, has been for decades, and that makes PVC that goes into a lot of the plastic products around us at every point in the supply chain, from even before a plastic becomes a plastic, toxic chemicals are spilling all over the place. When it becomes a plastic, that's a toxic manufacturing process. And we think that somehow that toxicity goes away when it becomes a product that ends up in our homes. It's, no, it's madness.
[01:02:27] I think that's maybe where we're seeing, I don't know, sea change here when it comes to public opinion when we're realizing we have been bamboozled by the plastics industry into thinking that this is a benign material. That's how it's always pitched, right? Like it makes everything safer, right? No, it is toxic. And from every point, production to disposal. If we're talking here about getting rid of these fibers in a safe, It is straight-up toxic. We just need less of it at the end of the day. And if we let the industry say, we'll just recycle more, we don't want this stuff recycling through our lives. We want as little contact with it as possible.
[01:02:58] Jordan Harbinger: Given everything you're talking about now in this episode, in our conversation here, it has become really obvious that cleaning up plastic in the ocean and everywhere else is not as simple as floating some giant plastic tube over the surface of the water, collecting cups in a garbage patch or filtering things out in a river or whatever. Can you leave us with something hopeful? Because this sounds impossible. It just sounds like, why try? There's already, we've saturated the whole planet with this. What the hell? It's never going to get fixed even remotely close in our lifetime. So who cares? You know, I don't want people to think that.
[01:03:31] Matt Simon: No, and I spent the last chapter of the book going through some of these mitigation measures. So you mentioned these cleanup efforts. We're talking about dragging a giant tube through the Pacific garbage patch to catch a bunch of plastic. It's too late at that point. That is as far downstream in the process as you can possibly get. We're talking about downstream, about stream here in plastics mitigation. Researchers want us to go as far upstream as possible. So if we're talking about ocean plastic, you don't want to do it in the middle of the Pacific. What's actually quite useful is one of my favorite pieces of technology in history is known as Mr. Trash Wheel. I talk about it in the book. Mr. Trash Wheel, that's an actual name. It's a barge in Baltimore Harbor. It's got big googly eyes, absolutely adorable. What it does is it captures plastic floating through the harbor before it can reach the seed that's farther up, literally farther upstream. In this case, we're catching it before it can actually get into the ocean, but the farthest upstream we could possibly go is again, to massively curtail the production of plastic.
[01:04:37] And that is what a UN treaty is currently under negotiations, is working toward, is ideally mandatory caps on the production of plastic because the curve is going exponentially as far as production is concerned. The plastics industry, this is what they see as their source of revenue going forward. They know that we're going to decarbonize our economy, we're going to burn fewer fossil fuels as fuels, and they want us to use more fossil fuels as plastics. That's what they're betting on. We cannot let them get away with that because the more they produce, the more corrupted the planet becomes with their product.
[01:05:11] So I think the most effective thing that people can do is like clean up their own home. Yes, great. If you get a washing machine filter, you know, you are contributing a fraction of oceanic microfibers, but maybe that convinces one of your friends to get one and it spreads by word of mouth. And now more people have microfiber filters on the washing machines. I don't want people though, to feel guilty about their contribution to this. It was not our fault as consumers. And that is the propaganda from the plastics industry has been all along. "If you just recycled more, you idiots, this wouldn't be such a problem. Meanwhile, we're going to keep producing more and more of this stuff. Don't mind us."
[01:05:48] So I think that there is a sea change here, that people are more and more realizing that this has gotten absolutely out of control, and that there are ways that we can mitigate microfibers in our own home by vacuuming and putting filters on washing machines. But at the end of the day, this is going to require people as a society to elect politicians that fully understand the scale of this threat and fully understand that this is intimately linked to the climate crisis. Plastics are fossil fuels. Actually, when they're released as microfibers in the environment, scientists have shown them to off gas carbon. They're contributing to climate change out there, in addition to just obliterating into tiny pieces that get taken up by all sorts of creatures.
[01:06:30] So that's where I'm actually quite hopeful and optimistic here, is that we are seeing movement on this. France is putting a mandate on microfiber filters for washing machines in 2025, maybe getting ideally some caps on production in this UN treaty. But most of all, getting people angry about this, I mean, I talk in the book about psychiatrists might not appreciate me telling people to get angry, but that's the most powerful thing we can do here is to push back against these sociopathic corporations that have destroyed this planet in pursuit of making shareholders happy. We can't let that happen anymore because given the opportunity, they will keep producing more and more of this stuff and eventually it'll just become untenable for much of life on Earth to actually exist if this gets even more out of control.
[01:07:17] Jordan Harbinger: Matt, thank you so much. A little bit depressing, but also really important. And you know what? Whatever, it's real, right? This is—
[01:07:25] Matt Simon: Yeah.
[01:07:25] Jordan Harbinger: It's not something you can avoid, so you might as well know about it, I suppose.
[01:07:28] Matt Simon: Yeah. I mean, get angry and, and take action. We, as consumers, actually have I think a lot of power and a lot of momentum at this time. This is not something that we can let stand any longer.
[01:07:39] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you very much.
[01:07:40] Matt Simon: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
[01:07:43] Jordan Harbinger: We've got a preview trailer of our interview with Vince Beiser. It's all about sand. You heard me — sand. It's actually quite fascinating. There are even sand mafia killing people over sand.
[01:07:53] Vince Beiser: If anybody had told me three, four years ago that I was going to be spending my every waking hour thinking and talking about sand, I would've just laughed. It's actually the most important solid substance on Earth. We use about 50 billion tons of sand every year. That's enough to cover the entire state of California every single year. Every year, we use enough concrete to build a wall, 90 feet high and 90 feet across right the way around the planet at the equator.
[01:08:25] A bunch of sand might get broken off of a mountaintop, washed down into a plane somewhere, and then that sand gets buried under subsequent geological layers and pushed down under the earth and compressed and turned into sandstone. And then that sandstone may get pushed up again by geologic forces over hundreds of thousands of years and worn away again and again broken down back into grains. So an individual grain of sand can be millions of years old.
[01:08:56] Jordan Harbinger: We're fully eclipsing the rate of creation here.
[01:08:59] Vince Beiser: You're probably sitting in a building made of just a huge pile of sand while the roads connecting all those buildings also made out of sand. The glass, the windows in all those buildings also made of sand. The microchips that power our computers, our cell phones, all of our other digital goodies also made from sand. So without sand, there's no modern civilization. And the craziest thing about it is we are starting to run out.
[01:09:27] Jordan Harbinger: For more on why sand is the next petroleum-like resource and some crazy stories about sand pirates and the black market for sand, check out episode 97 with Vince Beiser right here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:09:40] Ugh, so it is a little dark, right? It seems hopeless in many ways. Urban rivers are just conveyor belts of plastics out to the open sea. The Ganges River, for example, has a daily outflow, daily of around three billion with a B plastic particles every single day. Just think about that. That's disgusting to say the least. I can't even overstate that. Cigarette butts have other toxins, right on those plastic fibers that people are sucking down and then thrown in the water. Children inhale more microplastics because their face and nose is lower to the ground and the lower to the ground, the more likely you are to inhale microplastics. So once again, a short adults or babies get the shaft. We may actually be at a place where the ocean is blowing more microplastic onto the land than the land is blowing into or flowing into the ocean. Think about that three billion just from the Ganges River, and yet the ocean is still giving us more plastic. In other words, there's such a collection of microplastics in the ocean now that the water and sea breeze carries more out to land than we do dumping more waste into the water. Of course, this problem only gets worse exponentially if we keep dumping and probably will keep happening for decades and decades after we stop because, well, that's how the ocean works.
[01:10:54] Everything we wear, everything we walk on, everything we eat is from plastic manufactured from plastic coated with plastic manufactured near plastic touches. Plastic plastics are going to create more emissions than coal plants by 2030, and we are still building coal plants. So keep that in mind. Plastic mulch is something I'd also never heard of. It increases yields in the short term, but over the long term, it ends up naturally being a huge problem. This is because we use billions of pounds of plastic mulch every single year in agriculture. China uses enough plastic mulch to cover the entire state of Nebraska every single year, over the whole state. Think about how much that is.
[01:11:33] A lot of microplastics, they also contain toxic chemicals as well, or endocrine disruptors that we touched on, but not only are those endocrine disruptors on the plastic, they can be inside the plastic. The plastic can be around the endocrine-disrupting molecules. So basically there's a microplastic shield around an endocrine-disrupting chemical or toxic chemical. So this toxic chemical is now protected from being broken down outside until it ends up in a body or a digestive system, and then it slowly releases into that body, that system, whether it's a human or an animal. It's kind of like how a tablet or a pill is coated on the outside to make it easier to swallow and get into your system. Not good.
[01:12:13] Matt notes in his book that a European consumer eats up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic per year based on their consumption of mussels, clams, scallops, and you know, I guess the jokes on them. American food is already mostly plastic. How else does plastic affect sea life? Can they get inside fish organs like gills? Yes, they can. So imagine a fish trying to breathe with pieces of plastic, like plastic bag in the lungs, microfibers catch on gills, and make it harder for fish to breathe so they have to work harder to get oxygen. This of course, affects all sea life, not just fish.
[01:12:44] Wet wipes sheds, sweaters shed, even flushable wipes, those shed plastic. You're walking around shedding this stuff everywhere. It's called the Pigpen Effect based on the Charlie Brown character. This is the shedding of microplastics and nanoplastics from our clothing. Just everywhere you're walking outside with a little plastic-y windbreaker on, you're shedding that crap all over the place. It's really hard to imagine that we could stop this. The ocean currents, of course, move the pollution around, so they're finding plastic in Antarctica. It's crazy to me places where humans have never been, they're finding plastic because it moves around in the jet stream, in the water and everything. Trawler nets in the ocean are shedding plastic paint fragments are shedding plastic.
[01:13:21] Also, speaking of plastic in the lungs, that can cause things like cancer, especially if the plastics have other things on them, like bacteria and heavy metal. Other things that Matthew mentioned, stick to the plastic itself. Asbestos can get into the lungs. Plastic does too. It's not an exaggeration to say that this is as bad as any other sort of carcinogen. Also, there's something called nurdles. These are huge containers full of millions of pounds of little plastic pellets that they use to make basically anything. These will get swept off of ships or fall off of ships or sink from ships, and they'll spill millions of pounds of these plastic nurdles, or they'll get melted from a fire and then dumped into the water. It's actually more expensive and difficult to clean them up than to simply leave them on the ground and make more. So what happens? They just leave them there and they make more. It's awful. Imagine millions of pounds of little plastic pellets dumped into the ocean on a shipwreck. It's really horrifying. And they travel far. Actually, beachcombers, they call them mermaid tears, which is, I guess, dark humor at its best.
[01:14:21] And by the way, you might think, well, I don't work at a textile factory. Fine, unless you work at a textile factory, though, the place where you inhale the most pollution is the room you're probably in right now, especially if you're at home in your bedroom, you know where you spend decades of your life just inhaling whatever's in the air. And as Matthew said, yeah, we can buy better clothes, we can wear them for years, but this is really an industry issue. It's not a consumer issue. It's not a recycling issue. This isn't something that can be shoved off onto us. This is something that we have to prevent by making sure that we stop making this crap. Easier said than done.
[01:14:54] Big thank you to Matthew Simon. The book and all links to the resources will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. You can also check out our chatGPT bot to search for anything we've ever done on the show, including promo codes from sponsors over at jordanharbinger.com/ai. Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos are up on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, discount codes, ways to support the show, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support the show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:15:24] And I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same software, systems, and tiny habits that I use every single day. That's our Six-Minute Networking course, and the course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I want you to dig the well before you get thirsty. I want you to build relationships before you need them. Some of you have said, "Why should I do that? I just ask for things when I need them." I can only imagine how ineffective that is and what people really think of you when you do that. Don't do that to yourself. Don't do that to the people around you. And many of the guests on the show, they subscribe and contribute to the course. So you don't have to trust me, but you can trust the people you hear on the show, that are smarter than me. So come join us and you'll be in smart company.
[01:16:02] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's interested in the environment, it maybe would learn something from this or needs to know about this, definitely share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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