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Printers contribute to Earth’s 30 trillion ton technosphere

The combined weight of all man-made structures and objects, including printers and consumables, amounts to more than 30 trillion tons, according to a new paper1 by Professors Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams and Colin Waters from the University of Leicester Department of Geology. This works out at 50 kilos for every square metre of the Earth’s surface.

Professor Zalasiewicz said: “The technosphere is all of the structures that humans have constructed to keep them alive on the planet: houses, factories, farms, mines, roads, airports and shipping ports, computer systems, together with its discarded waste.

“The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale, the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly. Compared with the biosphere, though, it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials, as our burgeoning landfill sites show.”

Professor Waters added: “There is more to the technosphere than just its mass. It has enabled the production of an enormous array of material objects, from simple tools and coins to ballpoint pens, books and CDs, to the most sophisticated computers and smartphones. Many of these, if entombed in strata, can be preserved into the distant geological future as ‘technofossils’ that will help characterise and date the Anthropocene.”

The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch highlighting the impact humans have had on the planet.

The paper published in The Anthropocene Review suggests that if technofossils were to be classified in the same way as normal fossils, i.e. based on their shape, form and texture, the number of individual types of ‘technofossil’ is likely to be a billion or more, far outnumbering the numbers of biotic species now living.

1 The paper Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: A geological perspective is published in The Anthropocene Review.

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