Geological Garbage

Verlyn Klinkenborg’s recent article, “After the Great Quake,
Living with Earth’s Uncertainty
” is about how the earthquake and tsunami in Japan “remind us that we exist in geologic time.” He links the earthquake and its aftermath with climate change, saying, “[a]s we watch the specter of climate change unfold — trying to grasp the shifting, accelerating likelihoods — we’re looking at potential change of a kind normally associated with geologic time.”

A few specialists in discard studies have also been thinking about our existence in geologic time, that is time on a planetary scale rather than a human scale. Those that study nuclear waste and the efforts to make signage for humans (or not-humans) 10,000 years in the future, those that study plastic or POPs (persistent organic pollutants) from human-made materials that stay in the air, water, and soil for hundreds to thousands of years have been looking at waste in geological time.

Discarding many human-made items, from plastic straws to nuclear waste to nail polish, rank as events at the same space-time scale as massive earthquakes and global climate change. Since the 1930’s, humans have been making geological garbage.


Timeline for Nuclear Waste (from Global Education Project)

The table below shows the length of time that it takes for various items to degrade in the ocean (from Mote Marine Lab).