Are we living in the Plastic Age? Plastic containers fill up a recycling bin. (Andrew Fox/Corbis/Peace Corps)
Are we living in the Plastic Age?
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For centuries, historians and archaeologists have defined periods of human history. They have defined them by the technologies or materials that made the greatest impact on society. Examples include the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. It also includes the Iron Age. But what age are we in now? For some researchers, that question can be answered with one word. Plastics. That's according to Atlas Obscura’s Cara Giamo.

The idea of named ages is not to be confused with geologic subdivisions of time like the Holocene. Nor should it be confused with the proposed Anthropocene. This proposed age is a period resulting from massive human impact on the planet. This most recent geologic epoch is not yet official. But there have been many calls for its designation. A recent study argued that the Anthropocene began during the mid-20th century with the detonation of the first nuclear bombs. That's according to Ker Than, writing for Smithsonian.com.

The last geologic epoch was the Holocene. It is thought to encompass both the Bronze and Iron Ages. But we do not yet have a tool or material to define our current age. Scientists point to a few specific changes that humans have wrought on the planet. These include nuclear fallout and the rapid spread of materials like aluminum, concrete, and silicon. These offer forensic proof of humanity’s influence on Earth. 

Plastic “has redefined our material culture and the artifacts we leave behind.” It "will be found in stratified layers in our trash deposits.” That's according to archaeologist John Marston.  

There is no place on Earth that plastics are naturally made. The wide variety of synthetic polymers would not exist if it weren’t for human action. About six billion tons of plastics have been made and spread around the planet. They have been spread from forests to oceans since the first plastic polymers were invented. Plastics are one of the most significant changes that humans have made to the Earth’s makeup along with the first nuclear detonations in 1945. So reports Andrew C. Revkin for the New York Times. 

Most plastics don’t easily degrade. This only adds to the problem. Recycling isn’t an adequate solution. Not all types of plastic are easily recyclable. And there are only a few recycling plants in the United States that can process all varieties of plastic.

This means that much of the materials thrown into recycling bins can crisscross the planet several times. This is before they are processed to produce rugs, sweaters, or other bottles. That's according to Debra Winter writing for The Atlantic. Millions of tons of plastic are recycled every year. But millions more end up in landfills or the ocean. The problem has reached the point where it’s possible that in just a few decades there might be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish.

“With a presumed life span of over 500 years, it’s safe to say that every plastic bottle you have used exists somewhere on this planet, in some form or another,” Winter writes. 

Even if human populations worldwide change their plastic-using ways, the damage may already be done. Plastics are filling landfills and washing up on coastlines around the world. So the Plastic Age might soon take its place next to the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the history of human civilization.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does the article refer to this time period as the "Plastic Age"?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (98)
  • TaniaV-ilc
    4/06/2018 - 06:25 p.m.

    Plastic is a material that can not be synthesized by the nature, it is a xenobiotic compound (created by the human being) that has had a wide range of applications since the first plastic polymer was created. Plastic has caused significant impacts on the world to the point that today it is used in almost all human activities and it is found as a waste in all kind of environments. Its life span in this planet can not be estimated, but its impact is so evident that the "Plastic Age" is probably the better description of the life model of the current society.

  • JanethS-ilc
    4/06/2018 - 10:57 p.m.

    It is due to the main material used by people currently is plastic, and a lot of things that we have at home, at work, and every place are made of this material. As a result, millions of tons of plastic are produced and a huge quantity of them ends up in the sea, rivers, forests, and soil affecting our environment. Beyond its utility, plastic is generating a strong impact on our planet so that the current age could be identified as the Plastic Age.

  • JhossyO-ilc
    4/07/2018 - 06:55 p.m.

    Because each age had had a name as mentioned before. Currently, we are living in the plastic age and to me in the technology age. However, plastics have hurt the planet in many ways which is the principal idea of the article. We use plastics in our daily activities. For example, to study, to eat, and to do exercise. However, we do not realize how dangerous the use of plastic is, and someday this planet will be crowded with plastic.Therefore, that is why the article refers to this time period as the plastic age.

  • MariaGraciaC-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 02:08 p.m.

    I agree with the idea that we are living in the plastic age because nowadays everything that we use is made of plastic. People do not take into account that they should use different materials instead of using a lot of plastic because plastic is one of the most contaminating materials. If people cannot find a substitute for plastic they should recycle it. If people do not start recycling materials, there would not be life for future generations. We are destroying our environment, and contaminating it forgetting that that damage is irreparable.

  • AnitaC-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 02:26 p.m.

    The plastic since its creation has facilitated the life of the human being and it is used in most of the articles that we have now. But it is also a fact that plastic has contributed to the deterioration of the environment. Currently there are several solutions but they do not represent a profit or earnings for companies. That is why they continue to destroy our planet in the name of the growth of the economy. That is why the era we are living in is known as "Plastic Age".

  • MarcoC-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 04:43 p.m.

    Plastic has define human technology because we use it in almost everything. For example, factories use it to made computers, televisions, cellphones, and many other things. For this reason, this time period is proposed to be the plastic age. However, Plastic is contaminating the world so we have to stop using it.

    • MarcoC-ilc
      4/16/2018 - 09:30 a.m.

      Plastic is important to develope the technology that we already have, but it is contaminating the world. For example, people use cellphones made with plastic an other components that are later discarded. In other words, the use of plastic in tehcology is contaminating the world, so companies must be replaced it by other material. However, currently we are living in the plastic age because plastic is use almost in everything.

  • GabyV-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 05:54 p.m.

    The different ages are define by the materials that have started big changes in people’s lives. Now, human beings are causing a huge impact on earth by the usage of plastic products. For that reason, we can call this period of time as the “Plastic Age”.

  • ChristianC-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 05:58 p.m.

    Because human beings created plastic, and this material is used practically for everything. Plastic is a very durable and light weight material. It can be transformed in every form that someone can need, so it can be used in every industry, and it is inexpensive. Now, it is going to be difficult to create a replacement for plastic, so we ought to find ways to recycle it because we are getting closer to the “Trash Age”.

  • GabyR-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 07:01 p.m.

    Because historians and archaelogists consider that plastic is the material that has caused the greatest impact in this period of the human history. The use of plastic means one of the most significant changes in people´s life in the last decades.

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