How much do we need plastic?

The beach on the northeast coast of England was as beautiful today as ever. Watching my daughter build sandcastles with granny and granddad, people walking their dogs or generally having some time out from the hustle and bustle of daily life, I remembered the good things about where I come from. However, for how much longer will it all be here?

Certainly, this coastline is going to be around longer than some islands in the South Pacific, but what I had taken to be immune to climate change is in fact proving to be quite vulnerable. It took us four attempts, in a three-mile stretch of coastline, to find a place where we could actually gain access to the beach. The reason: most of it is fenced off while new sea defences are being built.

Basically, the land is being eaten away by rising sea levels. Long before my parents were small, there were groins to stop the sea tearing at the land and walls along the town end of the beach to stop the water when it was particularly high. I had even witnessed it coming over the walls on a really stormy day. But the old defences are no longer enough.

It is going to take at least a year, if not two, to build the new defences of reinforced and higher walls to protect the town and reduce the risk of erosion. And these may well work, although people are complaining that the new walls prevent them enjoying the view of the sea. And they certainly can’t be enjoying the difficulty in getting onto the beach, which is a major attraction of living in this area….

At the very least, it is a distraction from the economic decline in this region and the last vestiges of an industrial society. As I stood on the cliff edge, where we were looking for a way down to the beach, I turned and saw that the petrochemical works still loomed as large as ever, however:

Turning back towards the sea, there were also the usual number of tankers (about twenty of them) waiting to dock and pipe in their cargo: petroleum.

A substantial amount of petroleum comes into the port, destined for the plant in the first photo above. I love looking out to sea and the tankers do fill me with awe on one level. However, looking down the coastline at the beautiful beach, fenced off from the public who demand the plastic (and other petroleum derivatives), which ultimately comes from the tankers out at sea, and the jobs from the factories behind their houses, I was acutely aware of the dichotomy.

The bi-products of petroleum are everywhere. Not just in the ubiquitous plastic bags, which get embedded in the sand, or the bottles we buy our ketchup in, which also have a habit of ending up on the beach. They are in our clothes, bedding, furniture, paint, carpets, cars (and not just the tank), in our pens, ink cartridges, mobile phones, garden equipment, street lamps…. we just cannot get away from them.

And while you might eschew the more obvious (e.g. the aforementioned plastic bag), how are you going to take home the tablets from the chemist or write a memo for your boss? How much of our lives will have to change to stop the degradation of our environment?


About Helen

I have always been interesting in living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle and used to do what I could. Now, I have come to realise that we have reached such a point in terms of environmental degradation that it is more important - perhaps - to focus on building resilience. I therefore do as much as I can to reuse, grow my own and encourage a supportive community, for example. I also keep reading and learning all the time.
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16 Responses to How much do we need plastic?

  1. Plastic is a blessing and a curse. I think we could and should be willing to be a little more environmentaly cautious and responsible. Especially concerning waste plastic products and emitted petroleum. Great post.

    • Thank you! Yes, plastic has made life easier in many areas of our lives. I think that it would be better to think of ways of channelling its use so that we get the best of it for as long as possible, rather than wasting it on things that can quite easily be made with something else.

  2. PJ Girl says:

    I try not to use plastic but it is a hard habit to break! For example, plants usually come in plastic pots from garden centres so I try to re-use them hundreds of times (or grow my own from seed). I get very frustrated at the amount of packaging that surrounds most things 😦

    • Unnecessary packaging is one of my bug-bears, too! As it is possible to make plant pots out of other materials which are both durable and compostable (I have some), I don’t see any reason why we should be continually sold them in plastic ones.

  3. Bridget says:

    Everything seems to come in plastic now. So much of it, especially double packaging, is so unnecessary.

  4. great post! I came across a blog where they were trying to live a platic free life, and I’m trying remember the name…..
    A vote for paper pots from here !

  5. kate says:

    I am really troubled by the amount of plastic there is in the world. I try to avoid using it as much as possible, but it is so ubiquitous!

  6. It is a hard problem. We didn’t really have a problem without plastic before, used more glass and waxed paper and boxes. I saw “boxed pasta” in your other blog, I buy Barilla from Italy in boxes! No plastic, no GMOs. Shipping for me and more expensive. I have a manual pasta maker I haven’t tried yet. I remember my mom making egg noodles when I was kid and I have msde those.

    We think about islands already going under but your coastline is going too. Miami in Florida already has seawater in their water and seawater percolating up under buildings.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, the British coastline is falling into the sea. What’s happening in Miami sounds really horrific.

      I have made my own pasta – tried it properly in October and need to work on technique. Overall, I would rather do that than buy ready-made which won’t be local ingredients but it’s good to know there are manufacturers who can do plastic packaging-free. I have a mind to write to the manufacturers/suppliers of pasta here and ask them if they could switch to cardboard.

I love to read about your own experiences and any other feedback you have, so look forward to your comments below.

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