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Episodes 2024; 47(1): 179-186

Published online March 1, 2024


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

The potential of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) layers as Anthropocene strata

Wook-Hyun Nahm1, Wonsuck Kim2*, Minsik Kim2, Buhm Soon Park3, Min Han1, So-Jeong Kim4, Hyoun Soo Lim5, Junghae Choi6, Chang-Pyo Jun7

1Quaternary Research Center, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, Daejeon 34132, Republic of Korea
2Department of Earth System Sciences, Yonsei University, Seoul 03722, Republic of Korea
3Graduate School of Science and Technology Policy, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daejeon 34141, Republic of Korea
4Geo-Environment Research Center, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, Daejeon 34132, Republic of Korea
5Department of Geological Sciences, Pusan National University, Busan 46241, Republic of Korea
6Department of Earth Science Education, Kyungpook National University, Daegu 41566, Republic of Korea
7Department of Science Education, Chonnam National University, Gwangju 61186, Republic of Korea

Correspondence to:*E-mail: delta@yonsei.ac.kr

Received: October 20, 2023; Revised: December 29, 2023; Accepted: December 29, 2023

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


For the Anthropocene to get recognized as a real geological era, first and foremost its strata must be identified. Several geological formations such as bogs, lakebeds, reefs, ice sheets, speleothems, river estuary deposits, and sea floors have been considered as potential candidates for the Anthropocene strata. This consideration arises from the emergence of novel materials associated with the Anthropocene, including radioactive isotopes, plastics, and aluminum, started to be discovered in their sediments and dramatically increased since the mid-20th century. Yet, these deposits are no longer considered ‘natural’ because human activities are largely controlling the transport and depositional processes from source to sink. The Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in landfills has been also ‘unnaturally’ transported and deposited (landfilled) by humans. Since the 1950s, the controlled landfills have been made worldwide, and thus the opening time of the landfills is clear. The MSW layers of landfills, which appeared globally, contemporaneously, and with distinct characteristics, are indeed the ‘artificial (anthropogenic)’ strata showing a new and clear aspect of human influence, unprecedented in geological time. The MSW layers can be considered valuable indicators of the Anthropocene era because they not only preserve the history of human life but also sensitively demonstrate the scale of human activities like mass production, consumption, and disposal. The MSW layers can be expected to serve as a unique window into the Anthropocene.