My son has been David Attenborough’s greatest fan since he was a toddler, so last year’s series of Blue Planet was compulsory viewing in our house. While I knew that our oceans are littered with humans’ rubbish lazily thrown away, I was appalled by the reality the programme presented so starkly.
I have always been someone who hates waste. From working out a way to create three days of meals out of Sunday lunch leftovers and saving packaging for the kids to make strange (& beautiful, of course!) art works, to turning the tap off while brushing our teeth and the lights out when leaving a room, I try to avoid using things I don’t need, and throwing away stuff that can be used (with apologies to the many people I have plunged into darkness without thinking over the years).
Yet, something about Blue Planet triggered a new level of outrage at my own contribution to the toxic, permanent and wildlife-destroying plastic waste that is clogging our seas. In particular, it made me realise that although recycling is better than not, the best solution would be to just not buy anything with single use plastic wrapping.
Many of my colleagues felt the same, which is why a group of us in the House of Commons got together and decided to give up certain types of plastic for the 40 days of Lent. We wanted to see how difficult it might be to change our habits, and make a tiny contribution to reducing ocean-borne plastic.
Three weeks into the challenge, I am both amazed and shocked by the impact my decision to stop buying any single use plastic has had on my daily life. On the upside, I seem to have lost two kilograms, which just proves how much junk food (always wrapped in plastic) I was eating in my busy daily life.
But overwhelmingly I have discovered that, other than meat, which I always get from my wonderful butcher in Longhorsley village, my late night shopping at the local supermarket has often left me with tinned soup, a bread roll and a banana, such is the prevalence of plastic packaging.
The weekly shopping trip after a 14-hour Friday constituency day has left me ranting in the aisles of Tesco and Sainsbury’s (others will be getting my secret shopper visit shortly!). All bread is bagged in plastic, and even the fresh bakery products are in paper bags with a plastic window! Most fruit and veg is pre-bagged in plastic (what if I only wanted two Granny Smiths, not six?) and even where there is loose produce, the bags offered are plastic.
A lovely chap in Tesco’s found me some larger paper bags for my produce, for which I was enormously grateful. But please can we have them out on the shelves for all to use?
And then there are the “buy four tins of/rolls of/packs of”-type products: all packaged in an extra layer of single use plastic, but cheaper to buy in bulk. But why can't I buy four single items (less plastic) for the same price?
I have become acutely aware that if you shop for one it is almost certainly going to be proportionally more expensive. At every level this strikes me as a poor outcome, both for the planet’s wasted resources and for the consumer’s bank balance.
So, in a very small way, I hope that as I discover wasteful plastic packaging and challenge the seller on it, I can encourage changes in packaging through changed habits. Ultimately, customers deciding not to buy plastic of the sort that would be thrown away and never bio-degrade will alter how producers offer us their goods.
Easy ways to join our @giveupplastic challenge include carrying a refillable water bottle – and asking shops to fill it up for you. Likewise, as The Independent’s Cut the Cup Waste campaign has highlighted, why not get yourself a reusable coffee mug for your morning coffee shop run. Many coffee firms quite rightly now off a discount if you bring your own mug, and it also means one more plastic lid that doesn’t end up in landfill.
As you do your shopping, contemplate the plastic content of each item. If nothing else, you will lose a few pounds from your waist, and find more left in your wallet.
Remember that anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference has never been hounded by a mosquito! Join our challenge and give up some plastic today.
Please keep me posted on what you discover on Twitter, @annietrev, or on Instagram, Northumberlandgirl.