Humans looking back on this period of history in future will be astonished by the huge amount of plastic this generation left behind – because rubbish waste is now so prolific it will become fossilised, a scientist has said.
Dr Dan Parsons, professor of sedimentology at Hull University, says that it is inevitable there will be a record of the thousands of tonnes of plastic waste we generate as microplastics are already seeping into the earth and into the food chain.
He argues that the volume is so great that earth has entered a new age – “the plastic age” – and that a reminder of our throwaway culture will exist for millennia in the form of fossilised bits of plastic both large and small.
Just as there is a record of the life and death of dinosaurs in the earth, Dr Dan Parsons told HuffPost UK, plastic will be “our legacy”.
″If you fast forward 10-20 million years into the future, we will have left an imprint in the geological record that will have two key characteristics – one being a stream of deposits from nuclear weapons detonations and a set of fossilised plastic remains encapsulated within the rocks of the future,” he told HuffPost UK. “There will be some future geologists scratching their heads and thinking: what were these folks up to?”
The fossils won’t have clear imprints of things like bottles in them, he explained, because the plastic will be crushed and squashed under the weight of sediment – but the impression of the material will be visible, as is the case with dinosaur bones.
Separate research this week, from Newcastle University, has found that 99.99% of the world’s plastic is hidden deep within ocean beds. Using computer modelling, researchers have estimated that of the 393 million tons of plastic thought to be in the oceans, only 246,000 tons is on the surface – meaning the rest is lying at the bottom of the sea or buried in sediment.
“The scary thing is, we really don’t know what sort of harm this is doing to organisms,” added Dr Parsons. “We see pictures of whales and penguins with plastic wrapped around them but what we don’t really understand is the impact of microplastic – that’s a scary position as a scientist.”