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Earth Science

Plastic Trash Forming Into "Plastiglomerate" Rocks 123

Posted by samzenpus
from the earth-plus-plastic dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes 'Plastic may be with us a lot longer than we thought. In addition to clogging up landfills and becoming trapped in Arctic ice, some of it is turning into stone. Scientists say a new type of rock cobbled together from plastic, volcanic rock, beach sand, seashells, and corals has begun forming on the shores of Hawaii. The new material--which the researchers are calling a "plastiglomerate"--may be becoming so pervasive that it actually becomes part of the geologic record.'
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Plastic Trash Forming Into "Plastiglomerate" Rocks

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  • UV (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tekrat (242117) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @10:08PM (#47168901) Homepage Journal

    Riddle me this batman... UV light breaks down plastic, I've witnessed it every time I restore a car, or an old computer. All the plastic becomes brittle, breaks down, and eventually crumbles to plastic dust... Why doesn't this happen to the plastic in the ocean -- and everywhere else?

    • Re: UV (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GreyLurk (35139) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @10:13PM (#47168921) Homepage Journal
      The plastic dust is probably what makes up the Plastiglomerate
      • Re: UV (Score:5, Informative)

        by jandersen (462034) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @03:46AM (#47169881)

        This may be an interesting parallell to what happened during the Carboniferous era, when apparently plant matter didn't rot away until the fungi evolved the ability to break down lignin. As a matter of fact, there are a few fungi that are able to attack some kinds of plastic too.

    • by russotto (537200)

      These conglomerates are made of burned plastics. UV will likely break them down eventually (by "eventually" I mean "much less than geological time").

      Plastic in the ocean does the same thing.

      • by mlts (1038732)

        I just wonder how long it will be until some microbe evolves that can chew on polymers, breaking them up into something digestible.

        • Re:UV (Score:5, Insightful)

          by bmo (77928) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @10:59PM (#47169113)

          >microbes eating plastic

          You're not the only one to ask that question.

          http://www.goodreads.com/book/... [goodreads.com]

          I picked that book up in the 70s and the story sorta stuck with me. Worth the read.

          --
          BMO

        • They were routinely adding antibacterial agents to nylon when I worked in a nylon spinning plant back in the 80's. I think the practice goes back to the 50's or 60's.
          • They were routinely adding antibacterial agents to nylon when I worked in a nylon spinning plant back in the 80's. I think the practice goes back to the 50's or 60's.

            Was that to protect the nylon from bacteria or to prevent bacteria from hanging around on the nylon and infecting whoever wears it next?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Bacteria have evolved to deconstruct plastic (http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110328/full/news.2011.191.html).

        • by Optali (809880)
          And if there are enough of them there will maybe some predators speciallised on them and some may even use the plastics for things like float ability or organs!!! I have read a lot of articles about how the animals of the future may come to look like, but none ever thought on adding the massive amount of plastics, metals and others stuff we are adding to the ecosystem. Crap, I need a time machine. Now!
          • by gzuckier (1155781)
            And do the first nanobots evolved themselves, putting an end to the theory that the ancestors of our robot species were created by humanity, and thereby eliminating any moral debt and paving the way for us to eventually eliminate them in the year 2065.
      • So geologists can't use this a marker for the Anthropocene? They'll have to use subway tunnels instead?

    • Re:UV (Score:5, Informative)

      by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Thursday June 05, 2014 @01:13AM (#47169521)

      Riddle me this batman... UV light breaks down plastic, I've witnessed it every time I restore a car, or an old computer. All the plastic becomes brittle, breaks down, and eventually crumbles to plastic dust... Why doesn't this happen to the plastic in the ocean -- and everywhere else?

      Most of the plastic IS the dust - the big plastic garbage patch is made up of really tiny pellets after the big chunks have broken down.

      And what's happening looks like the plastic is breaking down and the pieces are starting to glob together forming some strange multi-material piece of plastic.

      Of course, once the dust gets small enough, the breakdown has to happen by UV only. In a big chunk, the plastic becomes brittle and the wave action helps break it down further, but once it's dust, it's too small for mechanical breakdown.

    • Re:UV (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TapeCutter (624760) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @02:36AM (#47169733) Journal
      It does, eventually, all depends on the type of plastic and is heavily dependent on the time it takes antibacteial agents within the plastic to break down. It's been known for quite some time that there does not seem to be any surface anywhere on the planet that does not have some microscopic plastic dust sprinkled on it. What these guys have noticed is that recent formations of sandstone/mudstone(?) contain plastic dust. To paraphrase the great Carlin, "The Earth doesn't care, it just incorporates palstic into a new paradigm - The Earth plus plastic."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Stuarticus (1205322)
      I don't get it, metal rusts I've seen it on my car all the time, how can there be metal in rocks? You can't explain that.
    • by alta (1263)

      I'm sure the plastic that's exposed is broken down but...

      1. This article is mostly about plastic that's melted in beach campfires along with a bunch of other crap. If the UV rays are only hitting the surface of the plastic it's not going to break down the crap inside.

      2. Stuff floating in the ocean only has a little bit exposed to the UV Rays. Most of it is going to be underwater. Even if it rolls around in the waves what spends times exposed is going to be much less than something sitting stationary gett

      • by Optali (809880)
        And the fact hat plastic is broken down doesn't mean that the polymers will just dissapear into another universe, the chains may get shorter and some may degrade into (complex) hydrocarbons that they will still be here. And PVC does actually NOT degrade with UV light.
    • by gizmo2199 (458329)
      I think it has to do with the fact that the plastic trash melts either by campfires or lava and can't be carried by the wind or water, so it gets buried, thus no sunlight. This buried melted plastic gets fused with sand and coral to form a stone.
    • by Optali (809880)
      EVer heard about a stuff called sand? Or soil and dirt? Mud? No? Well, never mind.
    • by Optali (809880)
      The degradation of plastic material is a slow process that can occur mechanically, chemically (thermo- or photo-oxidative), and to a lesser degree, biologically (Kulshreshtha, 1992; Shah et al., 2008; Cooper and Corcoran, 2010). The persistence of plastic in the environment has been estimated to be in the range of hundreds to thousands of years, although longevity can increase in cool climates and where material is buried on the ocean bottom or under sediment (Gregory and Andrady, 2003). A recent study exam
  • Only one picture - nfm

  • by Anonymous Coward

    available in 2 liter, 1 liter, 20/16/12 oz. for your convenience.

  • by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @10:16PM (#47168947) Homepage

    Now is the time to start buying mining rights for all that valuable plastic ore.

    • I think you will burn more in fuel then you would get back in crap-plastic.

    • Except that the beaches in Hawaii are considered public land -- nobody owns them and access to the seashore must be granted by owners of abutting property.
    • by Dogtanian (588974)

      Now is the time to start buying mining rights for all that valuable plastic ore.

      "That plastic 'ore"?! I don't think that Katie Price [mirror.co.uk] is for sale at the moment...

  • by guygo (894298) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @10:17PM (#47168951)
    The Plasticene.
  • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @10:18PM (#47168955) Journal
    • by retroworks (652802) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @06:12AM (#47170373) Homepage Journal

      Parent link George Carlin (Q:"Why are we here?" A:"Plastic, asshole.") routine was insightful. Reporting on environmental problems needs to better distinguish between serious harms like habitat loss and species extinction, resource conservation issues (one generation using everything up - like fresh water - disadvantaging later human generations), and what researchers call "fetishizing". The "fetish" is used when people are made to feel guilty about something (e.g. "waste") and continue to attach guilt and responsibility to the item based not on risk but on past human ownership. This can lead to regulations which disadvantage recycling (secondary copper smelters), secondary markets (e.g. used display devices and cell phones) disproportionately to the risk.

      There are some interesting academic papers on environmental fetishes and untended consequences of fixations based on previous human 'ownership' and 'guilt association'. Many environmentalists are scientists and are aware of the 'quasi-religion' of moral risk association, but are afraid to speak openly about it the same as the Renaissance's great thinkers were afraid to publicly pose their doubts about Christianity. The philosophers doubted much about sources of Christian ethics but were concerned about replacing it with anarchy. Scientific environmentalists have similar concerns about exposing "fetish" environmentalism without discrediting actual moral progress on stewardship.

      • Do you have any links to those papers or related articles? I am intrigued, but I won't be searching for "environmental fetishes" on a work computer...
        • Mostly it comes from Marx, "commodity fetishism" (see wikipedia). Using the same concept Marx used to describe how the labor added value of goods and commodities are unseen but known and measurable. Similarly, in regulating an object which is "waste" or "discard" differently from the same material mined and smelted attaches a fetish, ignoring hidden environmental and economic costs of production a waste or secondary commodity. I learned the concept from papers by Josh Lepawsky and Ramzy Kahhat on electro
  • > some of it is turning into stone.

    Recycling!

  • by Flozzin (626330) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @11:12PM (#47169155)
    How are these things rocks? We made them, then they melted. The grabbed onto rocks sure. But once you stick to a rock you become a rock? Rock's are minerals. I wasn't aware plastic is now considered a mineral? If I melt glass around a rock, can I call that a new type of rock? Or can I take super glue and glue some pebbles together and call that a new type of rock?
    • Do you consider coal to be a rock?

    • by Y.A.A.P. (1252040) on Wednesday June 04, 2014 @11:44PM (#47169269)

      Please, RTFA!

      The scientists in this article are classifying the characteristics of a new heterogeneous material, which is a necessity as the time for breakdown of this material may make it a significant part of the fossil record.

      The scientists are not saying it is a new form of rock. Only possibly the submitter or samzenpus are (mistakenly) saying this.

      To repeat: RTFA, no new rocks here!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Curunir_wolf (588405)

        Please, RTFA!

        You must be new here.

      • by Flozzin (626330)
        "stumbled upon the new rocks on a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. These stones, which they’ve dubbed “plastiglomerates,”"
        I did rtf. It says new type of rock all over it.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        FTA:

        Here, we report the appearance of a new “stone” formed through intermingling of melted plastic, beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, and organic debris from Kamilo Beach on the island of Hawaii.

        See figure 4 for, imho, the most descriptive pictures

      • I can see the history books... the Plastic Age, beginning in the the mid 20th century....

        We really are in the plastic age. When everybody has a form of computer... guess that is the computer age--- although it's impact is not as deep as plastic yet... so does it count as an Age yet?? Iron Age changed everything... so I suppose computers were there around 2000? (remember world... but then the Iron Age began before it was world wide...)

        Internet Age... are we at that yet? Seems these huge changes are happenin

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Socially, we are in the information age.
          Economically, we are moving into the service age,
          Geologically possible the plastic age.

          Rock is a aggregate of materials. This could lead to a new classifications of rock; which will be interesting for out petrology friends.

    • by jiriw (444695)

      How are these things rocks? ... once you stick to a rock you become a rock? ... plastic is now considered a mineral? If I melt glass around a rock, can I call that a new type of rock? Or can I take super glue and glue some pebbles together and call that a new type of rock?

      Even if you DNRTFA....
      Apparently ... depends... in this form, yes... 2* yes, sort of...

      How did you think Sandstone and Shale are created... or Obsidian? What do you think Amber is? Just because it is ground up other stuff with nice fossils in it (Sandstone/shale), a kind of glass (Obsidian) or has a non-geological origin (tree resin in case of Amber) doesn't mean it can't become rock.

    • by danbert8 (1024253)

      Super-glue plus pebbles it a type of rock... It's called conglomerate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

    • by russotto (537200)

      If I melt glass around a rock, can I call that a new type of rock?

      There's already glass conglomerate minerals.

      Or can I take super glue and glue some pebbles together and call that a new type of rock?

      That would be a plastiglomerate, because cured cyanoacrylates are plastics.

    • by McFly777 (23881)

      Considering that plastic is created by refining a mineral, in this case oil*, maybe it could be considered a mineral itself.

      *Petrolium oil, extracted from the earth as crude oil, as against vegatable oil, etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yeah this is controversial and will piss off all the hippies, but I think it's awesome how humans are affecting the ecosystem of earth. And years later, when we are gone and monkeys evolve again, these new intelligent animals will piece together the fact that there was once intelligent life here based on structures such as this.

    • by istartedi (132515)

      And years later, when we are gone and monkeys evolve again, these new intelligent animals will piece together the fact that there was once intelligent life here based on structures such as this.

      No, years later when dinosaurs evolve again they'll assume that the substance is derived from dead mammals. Then the ultra-intelligent and efficient reptiles will dominate for another few million years, living lightly off the land such that vast swamps of plants that were never cut down produced oil so that the n

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        We've only got one, or maybe two such cycles left before solar expansion pushes us outside the temperature range for life on this planet.
        • by GNious (953874)

          Put some thrusters on earth, and fire prograde.

          (whattaya mean, "too much KSP"?!?)

        • I'm worrying about getting my retirement account fully funded and you're worried about ... solar expansion?

          Go away.

          • by wagnerrp (1305589)
            The OP was talking about another petroleum cycle to produce fuel for another round of intelligent organism to use. Hopefully your retirement plans are finalized before that several hundred million year process has completed.
    • by jandersen (462034)

      Yeah this is controversial and will piss off all the hippies, but I think it's awesome how humans are affecting the ecosystem of earth.

      There isn't anything strange or awesome about a species affecting the ecosystem of Earth - the oxygen content of our atmosphere is largely due to cyanobacteria and the like. Apparently there is little on this planet that isn't affected to a significant extent by life - even things like land erosion and plate techtonics.

    • Charlton Heston says monkeys will inherit the Earth. Again.

  • Horta

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 05, 2014 @01:26AM (#47169551)

    Does this mean that like organic things in dinosaur era which turned into petroleum in favorable conditions, these plasticrocks will turn to rock oil ?

  • Typical AAAS tripe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bradley13 (1118935) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @07:19AM (#47170567) Homepage

    Here's the key phrase out of the abstract: "...melted plastic during campfire burning... [increases] the potential for burial and subsequent preservation". Why? Because lumps of melted plastic stick to sand or rocks, and hence are more likely to not blow away, be degraded by UV or whatever.

    This is a topic for a scientific paper, and deem headline-worthy by the AAAS? I knew there was a reason I cancelled my membership a couple of decades ago...

    • You sure you didn't cancel your membership to the AARP?

      This was posted in the proceedings of the Geological Society of America, Not the American Academy for the Advance of Science (AAAS).

      * For those of you fine Slashdotters not of the American persuasion, the AARP [aarp.org] used to be called the American Association of Retired Persons, likely to differentiate itself from the AAA, the American Automobile Association. Now it appears to be just called AARP.

      • by cyn1c77 (928549)

        You sure you didn't cancel your membership to the AARP?

        This was posted in the proceedings of the Geological Society of America, Not the American Academy for the Advance of Science (AAAS).

        * For those of you fine Slashdotters not of the American persuasion, the AARP [aarp.org] used to be called the American Association of Retired Persons, likely to differentiate itself from the AAA, the American Automobile Association. Now it appears to be just called AARP.

        Spend more time fact checking and less time trying to prove people wrong:

        The first link in the article blurb above is to a headline on the AAAS website, which publishes the journal Science.

      • by gzuckier (1155781)
        And then there's AA, which is another thing entirely.
    • We can lump this in with climate science and prove that mankind has no impact on the environment. /* snark snark */
  • "What also floats in water?
    - Bread. - Apples.
    - Very small rocks. - Cider! Great gravy.
    - Cherries. Mud. - Churches."

    I knew that small rock would float one day !

    They were visionary !

  • Current melting trends estimated that 1 trillion pieces of plastic could be released into the ecosystem in the next ten years.
  • So instead of releasing the carbon into the atmosphere we're pissed off because now we have ugly rocks that are made of trapped carbon?

    If this plastiglomerate can remain in the environment for eons, then I'm thinking we should make more of it, a lot more of it.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      To bad it uses more then it traps.

      • it uses it therefor it traps. but I assume you meant the word "use" in some other way...

        we are pulling hydrocarbons from deep underground and if we continue to either burn it or allow it to decompose, it will become CO2 and contribute to the greenhouse effect. Anything that could sequester carbon long term is better than the nothing we are doing today.

        the eventual goal would be to stop pulling material out of the ground, and reverse the trend and put carbon back faster than we take it out. We're so far away

  • And that's how we make our mark.... boo yaa....
  • So HL2, came out in back in 2004 had this quote in it, from the character of Dr Breen : Are all the accomplishments of humanity fated to be nothing more than a layer of broken plastic shards thinly strewn across a fossil bed, sandwiched between the Burgess shale and an eon's worth of mud?

    While certainly this is not a surprise consequence to anyone in a scientific field(s) involved. I find it somewhat ironic that the sentiment (no pun), showed up in a video game.

  • Am I the only one that thought... Cool!

  • I always thought that they should build Boomer retirement communities out of all those VHS tapes that were sold to them during the 80s and 90s. Where are they now?

  • For years we've been hearing from environmentalists how our use of nondegradable plastics is cluttering up the environment, but here we see the truth; the earth is using these plastics to produce new fossil carbon, for future generations to use for fuel! And as a bonus this is a carbon sink to limit global warming! I look forward to the day when I can build a deck out of petrified engineered lumber.

One small step for man, one giant stumble for mankind.

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