I remember laughing when my mother announced that for Lent she was giving up shouting at my sisters and I before breakfast. I have carried on the tradition and try hard to leave the house in time for the school bus without raising my voice. The concept of behaviour change for the better during Lent is longstanding for many of us.
Giving up plastics this Lent has proved far more difficult than trying to take a positive tone with teenagers. I hate litter, and picking it up has become a regular part of any walk. Abandoned crisp packets, coffee cups and fizzy drink bottles are all a blight on our environment, and once one has been thrown, others quickly follow. It seemed natural to take on the role of Parliamentary Champion for Keep Britain Tidy’s “Great British Spring Clean” when I was first elected three years ago. So when a colleague suggested a group of like-minded and enthusiastic MPs try to give up plastic for Lent, I was keen to give it a go.
Before we even started it dawned on me just how difficult the challenge would be. From coffee cups to toothbrushes, yoghurt pots to bank notes, plastic had taken over my life. I was determined to break the habit.
As a farmer’s daughter married to a keen gardener, it is fair to say we are responsible for a good proportion of our own produce. We are lucky to have fabulous delivery schemes in the area, such as that provided by North Aston Organics and Dairy, who twice a week drop off milk and yogurt to our door in glass containers which are re-used a few days later. Deddington Market traders helped by guiding me towards plastic free choices and in both supermarkets and small shops I have found nothing but a willingness to help.
The very nature of a MP’s job means that I am rarely in the same place for very long. My office is a brisk ten minutes’ walk away from the Commons chamber, so if I leave my reusable water bottle on my desk it is often a good few hours until I am next able to have a drink of water. The same is true on constituency days. During a recent meeting with the Canal and Rivers Trust I found myself on a narrowboat where the only liquids on offer were from single use bottles. I became more and more thirsty as the outing progressed. Refill Banbury and Bicester - which I launched last September - has proven to be a lifeline for me during Lent. Supported by Brita and Cherwell District Council, participating shops and businesses displaying the Refill sticker top up customers’ water bottles free of charge.
We may be coming to the end of Lent, but this has become about trying to change a habit of a lifetime. Blue Planet has done a fantastic job in raising awareness, and measures such as plastic-free supermarket aisles, deposit return schemes and the 5p coffee cup tax demonstrate that there is a real appetite for change. My reusable water bottle is here to stay.
Victoria Prentis is the Conservative MP for Banbury