Historians may soon be looking back at the 20th and early 21st centuries as the time of computers and the Internet, bold ventures into space and the splitting of the atom. But what will scholars in the distant future find worthy of note?

Anyone digging into the earth would find a sudden explosive increase in a new kind of material: plastic. Once underground, plastic will fossilize well, leaving a distinct signature. And there’s plenty of it. Until the 20th century, plastic was virtually nonexistent. Since then, humans have created 5 billion tons. The paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz has calculated that if it were all converted into cling wrap, there would be enough to wrap the globe.

Until about 20 years ago, Zalasiewicz said, the idea that people could permanently change the planet was considered nonsense. “The scale of geological processes such as mountain building and volcanic eruptions have been held to be much greater than anything humans can rustle up,” he said. But over the last several decades, he added, it’s become clear that human-generated effects “can be big on a geological scale and can be more or less permanent.”

Geologic maps of the future might refer to our time as the Slobocene era, or the Trashiferous period. Or maybe the name scientists recently coined–Anthropocene –will stick. It refers to the time when humankind started to make an indelible mark. Changes that characterize the Anthropocene include the widespread production of aluminum and concrete as well as plastics, and distinct changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans.

Plastics have been important for distributing clean food and water, for medical devices, surgical gloves and affordable clothing. They’ve played a big role in health and sanitation. The fact that they don’t dissolve or decay is a plus for most of their intended uses. But there are consequences.

Read the full story at http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2016/may/01/ours-is-the-era-of-plastics-20160501/.