Giving Up Plastic For Lent has taught me it will take all of us to change our 'Throw-Away Society' - my article for the Huffington Post

Now I am into my second week living plastic-free and without eating meat – things are becoming easier, but it does require a lot of planning ahead.

One thing I always seem to do is forget my own water bottle. The House of Commons provides disposable drinking cups in meetings and, since the success of our Lent campaign last year, these disposable cups have been replaced with compostable ones. However, not all the disposable cups have been used up yet so I have found myself this week searching through the stacks of cups looking for ones with the compostable symbol. I often get feedback from constituents pointing out the need for clearer labelling on food and drink packaging in order to help people choose the products that are easier to recycle. The Government has just launched a new consultation on how best to improve this labelling and thus help recycling.

But it will not just be Government that needs to make changes in order to substantially reduce our consumption of single-use plastic as a society. Businesses and manufacturers must do their part too. Chelmsford is home to the busiest distribution centre for Aldi in the UK – when I visited the centre a couple of months ago, I was delighted to hear that they have taken the decision to remove all black plastic food trays from their stores, as black plastic is notoriously difficult for recycling depots to sort.

Just before the start of Lent, I also met one of the world’s largest soft drinks manufacturers. They have made a commitment to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one they sell by 2030 but this nowhere near soon enough in my opinion. When discussing the severe levels of plastic pollution in developing countries they pointed to the lack of infrastructure in many countries to support recycling.

That is why my colleagues and I are supporting Tearfund’s campaign to reduce plastic pollution in developing countries. This charity works with local people to establish waste recycling plants in some of the poorest areas. The Government is part-funding the campaign to build many of these plants and, once established, the plants will be self-funding and sustainable.

I was due to visit a Tearfund project in Haiti last Autumn but unfortunately was unable to go at the last minute because of a hurricane. At the moment, in Haiti much of the clean drinking water comes in large plastic bags, but when the bags get into the sewage systems they often block the drains. This causes flooding which in turn leads to the spread of diseases like cholera.

If we are to move away from being a ‘throw-away society’, business, government and consumers must all come together and do their bit to reduce our global environmental impact. This week I have embraced my new vegetarian cookbook – I have added a new aubergine bake to my (so far limited!) repertoire of vegetarian dishes. I have made it my aim to try at least one new recipe a week.

I was amazed to read about the impact that even a flexitarian diet can have (which involves a largely vegetable-based diet, occasionally supplemented with meat). Even cutting out meat one day a week can cut our annual carbon emissions by as much as not driving our cars for a month. A third of all the land on Earth is currently used either for livestock or to produce their feed. Meat from grass-fed, locally reared livestock often has a lower environmental footprint. This is one of the reasons why many of my colleagues are also supporting “shop local” initiatives this Lent.

Treading more lightly on the planet will clearly need to be a joint and concerted effort, but it is a challenge we all have a responsibility to commit to if we are to leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it.