Recently, researchers discovered a new type of rock made out of plastic on the shores of Hawaii. The discovery adds to the debate about whether humanity’s heavy hand in natural processes warrants the formal declaration of a new epoch of Earth history called the Anthropocene. How else is plastic changing our world? From nest decoration to unlikely fish food, these stories reveal how our widespread use of plastics can have unintended effects.
Humans produced nearly 300 million tons of plastic in 2012, but where does it end up? A new study has found plastic debris in a surprising location: trapped in Arctic sea ice. As the ice melts, it could release a flood of floating plastic onto the world.
Could glowing microbes be enticing ocean fish to snack on bits of plastic trash? Maybe, say researchers studying the "plastisphere"—the sea’s millions of tons of drifting synthetic detritus.
Research reveals that the spindly-legged bug Halobates sericeus has begun to lay its eggs on not only bobbing pieces of pumice and other ocean debris but also on floating garbage in the Pacific Ocean. The behavior may be giving the insect an edge in a tough environment—but it may also have negative consequences for the ecosystem as a whole.
Lint from washing machines is polluting the world’s oceans. Nearly 2000 polyester fibers can float away, unseen, from a single fleece sweater in one wash cycle. The consequences of this widespread pollution are still hazy, but environmental scientists say the microscopic plastic fibers have the potential to harm marine life.
One man’s trash is another bird’s treasure. Researchers have discovered that when black kites adorn their nests with bits of white plastic they find littering the ground, they’re saying, "Don't mess with me." These humanmade objects warn off rivals, signaling that the nest owner is willing to put up a fight if challenged for its territory.