The last week has finally brought some long awaited sunshine to our shores, following a cold and extremely long winter. I was in Berwick on Friday visiting our local schools and the Museum, which made me ponder our heritage, which is so closely linked with our environment and what we can do to preserve it. In my last few columns there have been updates on how my #GiveUpPlasticForLent challenge was progressing and since that last update, it has now come to an end.
I made it to Easter Sunday with almost no failures in terms of buying single-use plastic. I have lost weight, drunk more water, eaten more fruit and had some hilarious and heartwarming conversations with strangers about trying to be a slightly more considerate human towards our planet.
I have met with supermarket chiefs in the last few weeks. They are all starting to look at supply chains and packaging, and are happy to continue talking to me and colleagues about the madness of our supermarket aisles which have become festivals of plastic. They are considering plastic-free shops. I have asked them to trial “packaging bins” at the checkout so that we can leave the excess wrappings with them to dispose of. Their cost and their effort – always a good motivator for reducing unnecessary waste!
The most important thing to do, though, will be to continue to keep this issue at the top of the agenda – every small change made by millions of people will have a big impact.
The reality is that if consumers wish to continue to buy a new bottle with some sugary drink or water in it several times a week, then we must find ways to ensure that those bottles are all recycled back into the processing system and not discarded as waste with little thought to their final destination in our oceans, never to biodegrade in our children or grandchildren’s lifetimes.
I wholeheartedly support Michael Gove’s plans to create “reverse vending machines”, as it might motivate children to seek out discarded bottles to make a bit of pocket money for themselves and help to clean up the planet. I will continue to lobby for a levy on disposable coffee cups, to encourage a change in behaviour. It worked for plastic bags, so why not for these too? And the single-use disposable plastic straw really needs to become a thing of the past.
That’s the kind of nudge policy thinking which brought me into frontline politics. If we work with the grain of human nature we can really start to reverse the recent obsession with plastic packaging. The right of the consumer should be balanced with the responsibility of the user not to harm themselves or the wider environment – and producers and the government must help us get there.
The people who made a home in our special environment in Northumberland have come from many corners of the globe and last week in the House of Commons, I called for the Government to help Northumberland Council with supporting families and children who have left Syria and by boosting fostering capacity in our area.
I am proud that our welcoming and warm northern spirit has helped families but there is still more we can do. I was delighted that the Minister confirmed that the Government is committed to boosting fostering capacity and that they will be reviewing funding arrangements for local authorities that look after unaccompanied children. This is a really important step forward and one that I will be working on over the coming months.
It is worth remembering that the Government is at the forefront of the humanitarian response to this crisis, committing £2.46 billion since 2012 - our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis. Since 2012, across Syria and the region, UK aid has delivered over 26 million food rations that feed a person for a month, 10.3 million medical consultations, 9.8 million relief packages, and over 8 million vaccines. In 2016/17 alone, UK aid reached over 5 million people with clean water.
We need to be caring and generous in looking after our environment and the people who inhabit it and I would encourage everyone to think how they can play their small part in helping to do this.