For this year’s Northwest Earth Institute EcoChallenge my family and I chose to take on several of the key areas of sustainable lifestyle habits: transport, food and waste. We were looking for a way to kick-start (and re-kick start in some cases) more simple and sustainable habits after having our heads deep in the sand of new parenthood. We committed to biking, busing and walking in lieu of using the car, a goal we met with reasonable success given we live in a community that supports alternative transport. We committed to eating more locally grown and processed foods, as well as to reducing the amount of waste we generate .

Perhaps the greatest lesson and reawakening for me was in the realm of our commitment to reduce our use of plastics and disposable items. Author and activist Julia Butterfly Hill says that “Disposables are a main sign that we have lost our connection to the sacred.” Day in and day out I am inundated with plastics. Plastics at the grocery store, plastics at the bakery, plastics at the restaurant, plastics, plastics, plastics. Hence the challenge to reduce plastic use presented me with a whole new lens through which to see my immediate surroundings. Plastics are everywhere! In fact, to try to buy food without buying plastics is a task commensurate to climbing Everest. At every turn, plastic: fruit in plastic, bread in plastic, crackers in plastic, cheese in plastic… The list goes on and on.

Julia’s musings on how disposables are a sign that we have lost our connection to the sacred stays with me. Every time I make a choice I am acting out my values, or not. The problem is that in a cultural pace that is quick as silver, and in a cultural scenario where plastics are a dime a dozen, even when you are trying to resist it is like being the proverbial Salmon swimming upstream. Of course I feel the Earth is sacred. Of course I know that plastics account for 25% of all waste in landfills. Of course I know that plastic doesn’t biodegrade quickly (ever?). Of course I know that plastic makes its way to the oceans, threatening birds and wildlife. Of course I know there is a floating plastic island the size of Texas in the North Pacific, formed from our (my) trash moving with ocean currents. So why did I just buy that loaf of bread wrapped in plastic?

Even when we know something, it doesn’t always serve us in closing what NWEI’s Executive Director Mike Mercer often talks about – the “say-do gap.” The problem is that we don’t always do what is ‘right’ based on our understanding, or our beliefs. We can say we understand something, and even that we ‘should’ take certain actions based on this understanding (ie: drive less, eat local, waste less, live more simply) – but the gap continues.

Here is the great task of our age – to close this gap and to act in accordance with what we know to be ‘right.’ This means vigilance at every turn. As the EcoChallenge reminded me this month, it means buying bread fresh and handing the baker my own bag to put it in. It means buying in bulk. It means thinking ahead and bringing my own utensils and containers when eating out. It means asking a lot of questions and talking about my concerns with decision makers. It also means reconnecting again and again with the sacred dimensions of life and Earth – and feeling how each gesture throughout my days is an opportunity to give voice to this experience.