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 (122)
  • JazminA-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 07:56 p.m.

    Because of the quantity of plastic that people gather and throw around the world. Even though there are forms of recycling, there are still millions of plastic polluting ocean and landfills.

    Also the article indicates that the damage is such a severe that even people start to change the way to use it, it could be late.


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

    In the future we will face the Plastic problem as a real danger in our daily life, so we have time to think about it and do something to save our planet.

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

    World has past through many ages according to the material that impacts society. Nowadays, plastic is one of those materials. Because of the high demand the world actually uses, it is impossible to recicle it. In a few years, plastic will be everywhere, so that is why we are passing throw the Plastic Age.

  • DianaC-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 08:45 p.m.

    Plastic is a material through it people can make up a lot of stuff which make our life easy. But people do not see the consequences of this material in the nature. It is one of the most difficult materials to reciclate and cause damage to animals especially in the sea.
    People should find another material that can has the same puropose as plastic, but it should be healthier for the nature.

  • DanielaJ-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 09:59 p.m.

    As the article said, "Plastic “has redefined our material culture and the artifacts we leave behind.”, this mean that plastic has come to represent an important issue for the world, we are living in a culture in which have globalized the consume of plastic things and it constitutes a huge impact for the society in this epoch.

  • MabeV-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 10:36 p.m.

    We are living in a period where people are accustomed to use articles in plastic and replace it easily. For instance, fast food is served in plastic containers and once we use it these articles are throwout to the garbage. Another example is the excessive use of plastics bags from human being. We need to take care of planet; otherwise, this period could be the last one for the humans.

  • LissetteS-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 10:39 p.m.

    The article mentions that throughout the Earth's history there has been ages which names were always about the most relevant material in those ages. For example, iron and stone age. Nowadays, plastics are in every place around the world. For this reason, now, it is denominated plastic age. In other times, iron, stone have had positive impacts, now, plastics have and will have more negative impacts, especially to the environment because of their difficult process of degradation and few reciclying plants.

  • AndreaN-ilc
    4/08/2018 - 11:34 p.m.

    This time is consider as the "Plastic Age" because this material has a big impact on current people´s lifestyle. Many products which people use daily are made of plastic, and most of them are hardly degraded. That is one of the main problems, plastics are everywhere, and will remain for a long period because humanity is creating untenable plastic deposits.

  • DorisC-ilc
    4/09/2018 - 01:27 p.m.

    According to Jonh Marston, plastic has redefined our material culture and the artifacts we leave behind.

    Most plastics do not easily degrade, so it only adds to the problem. This is called the "Plastic Age" because of humanity bad plastic-using ways, the huge damage is already done, the ocean life is suffering, and humanity do not really care.

  • JoseL-ilc
    4/09/2018 - 02:27 p.m.

    Plastic has become a huge part in human civilization.
    The negative impact that the plastic generate to the environment is the result of the lack of care that the humanity has promoted during the years.
    The evolution of the human in fact will ended with the real nature of the environment, so rather than an interesting article, the crux of it is an invitation to see what it is happening around us.

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