My plastic-free Lent was seriously challenged last weekend, on Mothering Sunday, when I took my elderly mother to the garden centre. She has always been a very keen gardener, and I wanted to treat her to a new plant she hasn’t had before. She might be much frailer these days but her garden is a haven for birds, butterflies and other insects and in the raised beds she still grows fruit and veg. However, I was disappointed to discover that every plant at the garden centre came in a black plastic pot – which are very hard to recycle.
That is why the Royal Horticultural Society have launched a new campaign to challenge the use of plastic in gardening. They estimate that 500million of these black pots are used in the UK every year! Fortunately, more and more gardeners are turning plastic-free and using compostable paper pots for seedlings instead. That means that instead of tipping the young plant out of a plastic pot before planting it in the ground, the seedlings are planted – pot and all.
As well as encouraging their supporters to be more environmentally-friendly, like many other organisations, the RHS have taken their own steps to reduce their use of plastic. Their magazines no longer come in plastic poly-wrap but 100% sustainably sourced paper. Which leads me to question why all posted magazines are not be wrapped similarly. Another bugbear of mine is the plastic window in envelopes. Many of my constituents still like an old-fashioned letter response when they take the time to write to me, but I do loathe the plastic window that still comes in so many envelopes. Often this means that envelopes can’t be recycled as even a small amount of plastic can contaminate a load when it is sent for recycling. It is obviously very logical to have a window in envelopes, but does it need to be plastic?
I have been heartened this week to see retailers take further steps to reduce their environmental impact, with Boston Tea Party announcing that despite its sales having dropped by a quarter since it banned single-use coffee cups last summer they plan to continue with the ban. They have estimated that 125,000 fewer cups have ended up in landfill as a result. This week, Morrison’s have announced that they will be the first supermarket chain to offer paper bags as an alternative to plastic bags for life, since recent evidence has suggested that the tax on plastic carrier bags is not going far enough to curb our plastic waste. This is the sort of socially responsible business practice that can make a really big difference to our environmental impact as a society and will help consumers to make environmentally responsible choices.
Speaking of environmentally responsible choices – I am still persevering with my meat-free Lent, which is getting easier and easier since I dedicated myself to my vegetarian cookbook. However, it is not always as easy when eating out. I think perhaps after Lent the compromise of a meat-reduction diet will be the way forward. In fact, I recently spoke to an organic sheep farmer. While he understood the environmental downsides of large-scale industrial farming practices, he pointed out that grazing livestock is crucial to the maintenance of areas such as the Somerset levels and Britain’s moorland and hills. These areas are important ‘carbon sinks’. The RSPB have also told me that peat bogs in the UK are responsible for more carbon captures than the woodlands and forests of France, Germany and the UK combined.
This coming week I’ll be watching Sir David Attenborough’s new natural history documentary on Netflix Our Planet – one of the things it will touch on is the way in which global plastic pollution is damaging our oceans. When interviewed at the premiere last Thursday night, Sir David implored us all to do all we can to protect our environment, not least because the very survival of humanity depends on the success and survival of our natural world.
Vicky Ford is the Conservative MP for Chelmsford