The Plastic Continent (And What You Can Do About It)

Sometimes called the “Plastic Continent” and sometimes called the “Pacific Garbage Patch”, it amounts to the same thing – an island of floating garbage, most of which is plastic, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But there’s a reason that some environmentalists are referring to it as a “Continent” — this island is twice the size of Texas. How big does that make the garbage patch? More than half a million square miles.

A few facts about the Plastic Continent:

  • The size of the Plastic Continent has doubled in the past five years
  • Fish, birds, and other marine life are found to have plastic in their stomachs
  • In the waters surrounding the Plastic Continent, plastic bits outnumber plankton six to one

What Can Be Done About the Plastic Continent? 

As Good Morning America put it when they reported on this topic, “there’s no one silver bullet”. Recycling alone will not stop the Plastic Continent’s growth, because only 5% of plastics are recycled globally. Furthermore, plastic is not easy to recycle because of its melting point, which is much lower than other recyclables such as aluminum and glass. The low melting point interferes with the recycling process, leading much of the plastic tagged for recycling to be discarded.

And anyway, what happens to recycled plastics? What is it recycled into? Why, once again, it is recycled into items such as drink bottles, straws, plastic cups, and so forth – items that will inevitably be thrown away at a rate of 95% to every 5% recycled.

A clean-up of the continent presents its own problem: what to do with all the recovered plastic? Some of it can be recycled; some of it cannot be. That means it will end up elsewhere, such as in a landfill. Scientists have yet to agree upon the best way to eliminate the Plastic Continent.

Please Use Less Plastic

We were trained by eager 1950s and 1960s advocates of “progress” to lead a throwaway life. In 1955, Life Magazine announced that this new “Throwaway Living” would liberate housewives and lead to a better world. We were so well trained in those decades that today we find the habit of using plastic hard to break. But we can each do our part to reduce the amount of plastic being used. Here are a few suggestion:

  • Stop buying drinks in plastic bottles. There is mounting evidence that plastic bottles may be unsafe anyway, and the environmental toll is horrendous. Kick the plastic bottle habit, and drink your water the old fashioned way – from the tap or the Brita.
  • Get reusable grocery bags, and remember to bring them when you shop.
  • Don’t use plastic food containers. You can turn old spaghetti sauce glass jars into excellent food storage containers which are both safer and better for the environment.
  • Don’t use plastic sandwich bags, but if you do, wash them out and reuse them.


Changing our habits around plastic will not be easy. But we have to do it. If each of us works individually to solve the problem of the plastics being dumped into our environment, we can create the “critical mass” we need to find a viable long-term solution.

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