Anthropocene microplastic stratigraphy of Xiamen Bay, China: A history of plastic production and waste management

Zouxia Long, Zhong Pan, Xianglong Jin, Qingping Zou, Jianhua He, Weiwen Li, Colin N. Waters, Simon D. Turner, Juliana A. Ivar do Sul, Xingguang Yu, Jian Chen, Hui Lin, Jianye Ren

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Microplastics (MPs) are considered one of the significant stratigraphic markers of the onset of the Anthropocene Epoch; however, the interconnections between historic plastic production, waste management as well as social-economic and timing of MP accumulation are not well understood. Here, stratigraphic data of MPs from a sediment core from Xiamen Bay, China, was used to reconstruct the history of plastic pollution. Generalized Additive Modeling indicates a complex temporal evolution of MP accumulation. The oldest MPs deposited in 1952 was 30,332 ± 31,457 items/kg•dw, coincide with the infancy of the plastic industry and onset of the Anthropocene. The Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) curtailed these initial increases. Subsequent rapid growth in MPs during the late 1970s was peaked at 189,241 ± 29,495 items/kg•dw in 1988 and was followed by a drastic decline in the late 1980s to a low value in 1996 (16,626 ± 26,371 items/kg•dw), coinciding with proliferation of MP sources, coupled with evolution of plastic production, consumption, and regulation. Increasing MPs over the past decades implies that previous mitigation measures have been compromised by the escalated influx of MPs from increasing plastics production, legacy MPs remaining in circulation and insufficient waste management for a growing population. The present methodology and results represent a conceptual advance in understanding how changes in policy and economics over time correlate to changes in MP records in Anthropocene strata, which may help make decisions on plastic pollution mitigation strategies worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
Article number119215
JournalWater Research
Early online date7 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • Anthropocene stratigraphy
  • History of plastic pollution
  • Technofossils
  • Temporal resolution
  • Waste management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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