Introduced as a mechanism to dispense whipped cream in the catering industry, Nitronites are 8 gram stainless steel “whippets”, which simply act as the packaging for Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas), and are then discarded. They first started appearing in the UK at music festivals such as Glastonbury, where people would inflate the canisters into balloons and then inhale the gas in order to experience a Nitrous Oxide high. The waste product - the stainless steel canisters - were still extremely rare until 2016, when the UK Government attempted (ineptly) to make their recreational use illegal via the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act, a reaction to the drugs’ resurgent popularity in the UK and around the world. In the short time since then, Nitronites have become both a familiar sight in urban areas, a public nuisance and an invaluable and indelible marker for the Anthropocene epoch.
Inhalation of nitrous oxide for recreational use, for the purpose of causing euphoria and/or slight hallucinations, began as a phenomenon for the British upper classes as long ago as 1799, with the rise in popularity of "laughing gas parties". In the 21st Century the recreational use of Nitrous Oxide is once more on the rise, especially in the UK, where according to the Global Drug Survey 2016, the drug was more popular than in any other of the 19 countries surveyed. In 2014, Nitrous Oxide was estimated to have been used by almost half a million young people at UK nightspots, festivals and parties.Following the government’s attempt to ban them, the canisters began turning up in parks and on pavements, and particularly at road junctions where users attempt to get rid of the evidence by dropping them onto the kerbside from their cars while stopped and waiting for a green light.
Also known as Balloons, Nos, Whippits, Laughing Gas, Hippy Crack, Chargers or Noz, in fewer than five years Nitronites have become a ubiquitous addition to the fossil record in urban areas, a significant public nuisance and a key indicator of the start of the new human-influenced geological epoch. "The Anthropocene" is a term coined in 2000 that has now entered scientific and popular literature as a description of the human-driven biological, chemical and physical changes to the Earth’s ecosystem which are so great, so rapid and so distinct that, according to the British Geological Survey, they may characterise the start of an entirely new geological epoch. In Australia Nitronites are known as Nangs, possibly derived from the sound distortion (or “flanging”) perceived by users.
The story that each of these little canisters goes through is fascinating. They are impossible to bend or crush by hand or with tools, yet we find them dented, flattened, cracked, bent and rusty. The forces that go into crushing one must be enormous, and how long do they have to remain in place before they rust? The bent ones are the most fascinating; how many times must they be run over before some specific positioning in time and space causes them to be folded in half?
This website represents the first
scientific attempt to observe, collect and classify Nitronites as the first of
a new Anthropocene sub-division of inorganic fossils, or “Neo-Fossils”. Or at
least as scientific an attempt as we can manage (see Classification).
The full range of our collection,
merchandise and scientific observations are available exclusively on these
pages. We would love to hear your stories to help build our understanding of
these fascinating “Future Fossils”, and to explore any opportunities to bring
the study and appreciation of Nitronites to a wider audience.
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