Plastics have been a part of human life since the mid-2oth century. As the volume of both plastic products and wastes increases, it leaves a geologic footprint in the form of fossilised plastics signalling its lasting impact on Earth.
Since the period of rapid development on plastic technology in the 1800s, human life has encountered a boon-bane relationship with synthetics for the succeeding centuries. At present, majority of the products we use contain plastics and also serve as among the biggest contributors of pollutants in our environment.
In a study headed by Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz, it was found out that the total amount of plastics produced globally since the Second World War accounts for as much as 5 billion tonnes of waste. Whilst many are aware of the magnitude of our plastic wastes, Zalasiewicz argued that the severity of its impact still comes as a real surprise.
"It turns out not just to have floated across the oceans but has sunk to the deepest parts of sea floor. This is not a sign that our planet is in a healthy condition either," Zalasiewicz mentioned in an interview with the Daily Mail . "There's a lot of it in the sea and plastic does drift up on most beaches of the world as well as sinking to the sea floor," he added.
From being a common sight stacked in landfills or floating on water, plastics have also been dispersing as sediments in the sea creating "fossilised" debris marking humans' presence in the geological landscape of the planet. The rise of plastic fossilised debris, together with the use of concrete and aluminum, marks what researchers refer to as the period of the Anthropocene – a period wherein almost majority of the Earth’s conditions and processes can be impacted or altered by human activities. Recently, studies have revealed that these plastic sediments often end up as food for fishes and a factor in the drowning or choking of birds and turtles.
"A vast proportion of them now have plastic in them. They think it is food and eat it, just as seabirds feed plastic to their chicks. Then some of it is released as excrement and ends up sinking on to the seabed. The planet is slowly being covered in plastic," said Zalasiewicz told The Guardian . "The total amount of plastic produced since the second world war is around 5 billion tonnes and is very likely to reach 30 billion by the end of the century. The impact will be colossal," he added. The research was headed by Dr. Zalasiewicz, titled 'The Geological Cycle of Plastics and Their Use as a Stratigraphic Indicator of the Anthropocene,' is available online in the journal Anthropocene. You may access the full research of Dr. Zalasiewicz and colleagues here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ancene.2016.01.002.