Garbage is not only increasingly showing up in Earth's oceans, but it is also becoming a part of the planet's geology, sparking environmental concerns among experts.
As with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a dramatic accumulation of plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon in which plastic is fusing with rocks is becoming more prevalent — so much so that experts are urging the hybrid formations to be officially recognized.
These bizarre rock-plastic hybrids have been discovered on five continents and in 11 countries so far, according to Popular Mechanics.
The process to create them involves molten plastic cooling within a mineral's matrix, resulting in a fused substance. Scientists, including Deyi Hou and Liuwei Wang from Tsinghua University in China, documented these new hybrids in a recent pape and proposed the term "plastistone" be used to collectively describe this novel form of plastic-infused rocks.
The researchers argue that the plastic rocks meet the criteria of sedimentary rocks, which dominate the Earth's surface.
Notable discoveries of so-called "plastistone" include one in Hawaii as well as geologist Fernanda Avelar Santos locating fused stones with plastic debris on the Brazilian island of Trindade, Popular Mechanics reported.
Hou and Wang emphasize that these plastic-rock hybrids typically result from the burning of land-based plastics, which then fuse with the mineral matrix during the cooling process, known as diagenesis.
The implications of plastistones on the environment have raised concerns. In the research paper, researchers describe how marine life, such as the gastropod sea snail Tectarius striatus on Madeira Island, may struggle to differentiate between plastics and their usual source of food, algae.
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On a macro scale, plastic pollution in the oceans is also alarming, with an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic believed to be present in the world's waterways, according to OceanConservancy.org. In fact, the Marine Mammal Center believes that 90 percent of oceanic trash is currently composed of plastic.
Due to the detrimental effects of plastics on the environment, some regions have implemented bans on items made from the material, such as bags and straws.
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