Future archeologists aren’t just going to be digging up old bones: Looks like they’re also going to be sifting though old fossilized plastics.
A review published (paywall) in the journal Anthropocene this month finds plastic has discernibly changed the surface of the planet since humans began using the material in the mid-20th century. They see this as evidence that the Earth is entering what the study’s authors call the “Age of Plastics.”
“If all the plastic made in the last few decades was clingfilm, there would be enough to put a layer around the whole Earth,” Jan Zalasiewicz, a paleobiologist at the University of Leicester and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “With current trends of production, there will be the equivalent of several more such layers by mid-century.”
For years, scientists have questioned whether or not we’ve entered a new geological timeframe directly impacted by human activity. In 2000, the Nobel-prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen coined the term “Anthropocene” to mark the time when humans began putting an abundance of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming, into the atmosphere during the Industrial Revolution. The term is frequently cited by the media and researchers, but it is not yet officially recognized on the geologic time scale due to ongoing debate over its merit. Zalasiewicz and his team conducted their research on the long-term environmental effects of plastics as part of the search for more concrete evidence of the proposed epoch.