'Plastic Rocks' Found in Hawaii
'Plastiglomerates' likely form when people melt plastic in fires while camping
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2014 9:38 AM CDT
Geologists say the rocks are made of plastic, volcanic rock, sand, shells, and corals.   (Patricia Corcoran/University of Western Ontario)

(Newser) – Since the mid-1950s, humans have produced more than 6 billion tons of plastic—and at least in Hawaii, geologists are finding that some of it is now fusing to volcanic rocks, seashells, sand, and coral to form an entirely new type of rock. Calling them plastiglomerates, the geologists say they found the stones at all 21 sites they surveyed on the Big Island—the New York Times reports the rocks ranged from as small as a peach pit to as large as a large pizza—and that they've been identified on another Hawaiian island as well. The prevailing theory is that the plastiglomerates form when people burn plastic in beach bonfires or campfires; the heat helps fuse the organic and inorganic materials, according to Science. Some of the plastic is still close enough to its original shape to resemble the toothbrushes, forks, and ropes they once were.

Some of the rocks are likely making their way down to the bottoms of sea beds, where they are more likely to be preserved in the geological record. As one marine biologist tells the Times, "Most conventional plastic is relatively thin and fragments quickly, but what’s being described here is something that’s going to be even more resistant to the aging process." That has one geophysicist not involved in the study suggesting there's a sort of silver lining to this: The rocks "might be a nice marker around the world of when humans came to dominate the globe and leave behind their refuse in mass quantities," he says. As such, one paleontologist argues the plastiglomerates could "be one of the key markers by which people could recognize the beginning of the Anthropocene"—a new geologic era on Earth marked by human's heavy impact on the planet. (On the other end of the temperature scale, plastics have even found their way into Arctic ice.)

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Showing 3 of 18 comments
Chuck S
Jul 3, 2014 12:06 PM CDT
Or...maybe it will have no significance at all. It will just be another tiny thing that have come about because of human presence that has no effect on anything and memorializes nothing important. Not every "discovery" science makes is profound, and very few actually have any significance to the future of the planet, history, or mankind. No matter what sweeping predictions the discoverer makes.
skoony
Jun 12, 2014 5:53 AM CDT
seeing that a big attraction in the islands is the lava flows its no wonder they are finding plastic.they find a lot of aluminum also.you have to have that picture of that beer can or water bottle melting in the flow.nothing to see here.move along.
????
Jun 11, 2014 9:35 PM CDT
Kinda make you think if so called natural materials are reminence of ancient civilizations.