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Title: The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene
Authors: Zalasiewicz, Jan
Waters, Colin N.
Ivar do Sul, Juliana A.
Corcoran, Patricia L.
Barnosky, Anthony D.
Cearreta, Alejandro
Edgeworth, Matt
Gałuszka, Agnieszka
Jeandel, Catherine
Leinfelder, Reinhold
McNeill, J.R.
Steffen, Will
Summerhayes, Colin
Wagreich, Michael
Williams, Mark
Wolfe, Alexander P.
Yonan, Yasmin
First Published: Mar-2016
Publisher: Elsevier
Citation: Anthropocene, 2016, 13, pp. 4-17
Abstract: The rise of plastics since the mid-20th century, both as a material element of modern life and as a growing environmental pollutant, has been widely described. Their distribution in both the terrestrial and marine realms suggests that they are a key geological indicator of the Anthropocene, as a distinctive stratal component. Most immediately evident in terrestrial deposits, they are clearly becoming widespread in marine sedimentary deposits in both shallow- and deep-water settings. They are abundant and widespread as macroscopic fragments and virtually ubiquitous as microplastic particles; these are dispersed by both physical and biological processes, not least via the food chain and the ‘faecal express’ route from surface to sea floor. Plastics are already widely dispersed in sedimentary deposits, and their amount seems likely to grow several-fold over the next few decades. They will continue to be input into the sedimentary cycle over coming 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 artefacts (‘technofossils’) they are moulded into, and many of these may have long-term preservation potential when buried in strata.
DOI Link: 10.1016/j.ancene.2016.01.002
ISSN: 2213-3054
Version: Post-print
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Journal Article
Rights: Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Ltd. After embargo this version will be an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License (, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Description: The file associated with this record is under a 24 month embargo from publication in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy. The full text may be available through the publisher links provided above.
Appears in Collections:Published Articles, Dept. of Geology

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