On Monday, April 22, an Earth Day lecture by Matt Simon was hosted in Peeler Auditorium. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Environmental Fellow Program and Global Studies Fellow Program as part of the Earth Day event series. 

Simon is a science journalist at Wired. He is experienced in writing articles covering a wide range of topics, such as biology, robotics, and the environment. He is the author of the recently published book, “A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies,” and is currently engaging in a Netflix project called “Absurd Planet.” In the lecture at DePauw, Simon discussed the problems associated with microplastic usage using evidence and explanations from his recent book, emphasizing the detrimental effects of plastic consumption on the environment and human well-being. 

Simon defined microplastics as little bits of plastic smaller than five millimeters, which is equal to the width of a pencil. Microplastics could be micro straws and dust that humans can actually see with their naked eyes. Simon also discussed the field of nanoplastics, saying that “plastics can break down into such a size that they become smaller than a million of a meter.” According to Simon, these particles are small enough to get into individual cells, which then are slowly poisoned by the constituent chemicals. In Simon’s recent book, he cited that there are at least 10,500 different chemicals found in plastics, known as toxicants like lead and formaldehyde, which greatly affect human health and the environment. 

Moreover, as Simon explained, 99.9% of plastics are still made from fossil fuels, which release a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere leading to climate change. He noted that plastic production would not likely decrease as humans heavily depend on plastic products, such as in synthetic materials used in fast-fashion clothing, basic household items and plastic containers. Simon provided the example that “children crawl on the floor and then inhale microplastics. The chemicals mess up their hormone system, which is particularly precarious in these human bodies, which are still developing.” The situation is similar to the act of drinking water from a plastic bottle. “People must be drinking millions of microplastics a day and probably many more nanoplastics,” Simon said.

Because plastic consumption is inevitable, Simon advised the audience to limit plastic usage as much as possible by using eco-friendly household items. Instead of using the recycling method as the government advertises, Simon suggested trapping microplastic in daily items. He recommended the use of a bag, which he calls “Mr. Trash Wheel,” which is intended to capture the floating macroplastics and keep them from reaching the ocean. Another item is a special filter that can be installed in washing machines, which could collect microplastics to be recycled and used as home insulation. Simon said, “It’s relieved to see technology can keep up with the plastic increase, but some of the inventions need to be taken into consideration.”

Following the lecture, Simon took questions from audience members about plastic recycling and the various methods of its implementation in real life. He gave more details about recycling and explained why we can solely rely on recycling. “I think recycling will play a part at some level, but we can’t rely on it to fix this problem. We can put more focus on washing machines and produce materials that just shed less of themselves to begin with. We need new materials that are not possible for obtaining chemicals. We have fixed recycling,” Simon explained.

Professor Dana Dudle posed a question which criticized Simon’s level of analysis when it came to his policy for solution and what his thoughts were on the global cap of production. As he explained, “Each individual tries to donate time and money to the groups that are in those negotiations for the plastic treatment. The plastic lobbyists are trying at all costs to avoid that cap on production. At the national level, the movements in places like California and Oregon enact those things.”