Human impact has created a ‘plastic planet’

Posted on 7 Apr 2021

A new study, which has been published in the journal Anthropocene, examines the evidence that we now live in the Anthropocene, an epoch where humans dominate the Earth’s surface geology, and suggests that the surface of the planet is being noticeably altered by the production of long-lasting human-made materials, resulting in an ‘Age of Plastic’.


Jan Zalasiewicz, Professor of Palaeobiology from the University of Leicester’s Department of Geology explained: “Plastics were more or less unknown to our grandparents when they were children. But now, they are indispensable to our lives. They’re everywhere.” The study suggests that plastics have such a long-lasting impact on the planet’s geology because they are inert and hard to degrade. As a result, when plastics litter the landscape they become a part of the soil, often ending up in the sea and being consumed by and killing plankton, fish and seabirds.


Professor Zalasiewicz added: “Plastics will continue to be input into the sedimentary cycle overcoming millennia as temporary stores — landfill sites — are eroded. Plastics already enable fine time resolution within Anthropocene deposits via the development of their different types and via the artifacts, known as ‘technofossils’, they are moulded into, and many of these may have long-term preservation potential when buried in strata”.


“Once buried, being so hard-wearing, plastics have a good chance to be fossilized — and leave a signal of the ultimate convenience material for many million years into the future. The age of plastic may really last for ages.”


Corporations around the world have taken a strong stance in reducing their environmental footprint and specifically look at reducing plastic use. Aspects considered include a company-wide assessment of durability, recyclability ad biodegradability of their products and processes. Governments are also taking a stance by either forcing change or providing incentives to combat plastic use and waste generation. Simple actions include banning of single use plastics, microbeads in cosmetics, replacing plastic packaging with sustainable recyclable packaging among other.


Plastic pollution remains a major concern for the environment and more so the world’s oceans receiving a continual influx of plastic. A major intervention is required all the way from individual use to governments and corporations to stop the flow of plastics to our oceans, to create economic incentives and to remediate affected areas to protect and preserve our environment for future generations.