A boy showed me a translucent green rectangle, about half an inch long and a quarter inch wide. “I found this on my bus,” he said. “Do you know what it is?”

Just a piece of plastic. That was my first answer. But I caught myself.

“That,” I said, “is the fossil remains of ancient creatures.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s made of plastic, right?”


“Plastic is made from oil. Where does oil come from?”

“From the ground!”

“And how did it get there?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure.”

“Millions of years ago, tiny ocean animals died and drifted to the bottom. On the bottom their bodies turned to goo. Over millions of years, that goo got buried, squished, and cooked just enough to turn into oil. We took the oil out of the ground, turned it into plastic, and made that plastic into all sorts of interesting shapes. So what you’re holding are the last remains of tiny creatures that died millions of years ago.”