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Simple acts soon turn into sustainable habits

Hundreds participate in EcoChallenge, raise awareness


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Betty Shelly in front of two weeks of garbage which she used during the Eco Challenge.Betty Shelley doesn’t have to remind her husband to take out the trash much.

Their trash simply doesn’t get picked up that often.

Since 2006, the Southwest Portland couple have paid for their 35-gallon garbage bin to be picked up just once per year. Most recently, their bin lasted 16 months before it needed a pickup.

“I put a date on the garbage bag under the sink,” Shelley says. “This one lasted four months. Usually it’s three months. I’m pleased with that.”

Shelley, who works part-time at Metro teaching waste reduction classes, celebrated this extreme aspect of her lifestyle this past month as one of the thousand-plus participants in the annual EcoChallenge.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The date on a trash bag reveals that its been the same one used since June 23rd. Betty Shelley only uses four trash bags a year.The fundraiser for the nonprofit Northwest Earth Institute asks people and business teams to create their own challenges — something they could do for two weeks to reduce their water, energy, food or transportation impact on the environment.

Shelley tried to produce as little trash as possible during the two-week period, which just wrapped up Oct. 31. She was successful, despite getting caught up by the small nonrecyclable things in life: stickers on produce, frozen food bags, ice cream containers, the plastic twist-off things on bottles of olive oil, and household items that occasionally break and have to be tossed, like a pair of slippers.

“Nobody’s perfect; it’s just trying to be aware,” Shelley says. “This is making me think, ‘I can do this,’ so we’re not just resting on our laurels.”

Shelley has been a member of Northwest Earth Institute since it formed in Portland 20 years ago, participating in the EcoChallenge each year. The challenge is open to everyone; participants this year hail from 39 states as well as Scotland, Bolivia, the United Kingdom and Canada.

They gain pledges from their friends and family and are encouraged to blog about their experience while it’s under way. Last year the EcoChallenge raised $20,000, which went to support programs that aim to engage students, communities and businesses in taking action to reduce their impact on the planet.

The word seems to be spreading. This year a total of 2,300 people participated, a 100 percent increase from last year’s 1,188 participants.