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Plastic trash has developed into 'plastiglomerate', a new kind of rock

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 5:16 - It's estimated that 1 billion tons of plastic have been discarded since the 1950s and research suggests it will take up to 500 years for some forms to biodegrade. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 in the U.S. actually made it to recycling plants.

The rest of it has made its way out into the ecosystem, only to become a part of it.

New research out of the University of Western Ontario (UWO) suggests that the melted plastic waste that is strewn across beaches is mixing with with organic debris, forming a new type of rock that scientists have called 'plastioglomerate'.

Researchers say the new rock has a 'good potential to persist' and may eventually become part of the planet's rock record, creating a permanent "marker of human pollution".

Capt. Charles Moore of California's Algalita Marine Research Institute teamed up with UWO's Patricia Corcoran to analyze the geologic materials found along Hawaii's Kamilo Beach, often considered one of the dirtiest beaches on the planet.


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Corcoran told livescience that Moore found plastic that had been melted to rocks with pieces of natural material -- like shells and sediment -- stuck to it.

"He didn't know what to call it," Corcoran told livescience.

"It's possible other people have found [the plastic conglomerates] at other locations before Captain Moore did, but nobody had thought to report it or identify it."

The complete plastiglomerate study can be read online at the Geological Society of America.

The full impact that plastic can have on an ecosystem remains unknown, it has some researchers worried.

Last month a study published at the Wiley Online Library reported that trillions of pieces of microplastics are being trapped by Arctic ice as it freezes.

By citing current melting trends, it's estimated that 1 trillion pieces of plastic could be released into the ecosystem in the next ten years.

Caption/Photo courtesy: Patricia Corcoran: Photographs of clastic plastiglomerate on Kamilo Beach. (A) Subrounded fragment containing basalt clasts, molten plastic, yellow rope, and green and red netting. (B) Portions of black and green plastic containers adhered to basalt fragments and connected by netting. (C) Fragment containing plastic pellets and “confetti” with woody debris. (D) Adhered mixture of sand, black tubing, a bottle lid, “confetti,” netting, and part of a plastic bag.

Caption/Photo courtesy: Patricia Corcoran: Photographs of clastic plastiglomerate on Kamilo Beach. (A) Subrounded fragment containing basalt clasts, molten plastic, yellow rope, and green and red netting. (B) Portions of black and green plastic containers adhered to basalt fragments and connected by netting. (C) Fragment containing plastic pellets and “confetti” with woody debris. (D) Adhered mixture of sand, black tubing, a bottle lid, “confetti,” netting, and part of a plastic bag.

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