Gretchen Bleiler challenges you to live sustainably |

Gretchen Bleiler challenges you to live sustainably

Gretchen Bleiler is doing her part to save the world.

Her latest approach: The 21 Day Reusable Challenge.

The halfpipe snowboarder is encouraging anyone and everyone to “kick the plastic habit for 21 days.” The challenge is three-prong: Do not use any plastic bottles, plastic grocery bags or Styrofoam containers for 21 days.

Research Bleiler discovered shows it takes 21 days to create a habit, which fits the challenge perfectly. She says the time is short enough that one can commit to it, yet just long enough to make an impact on one’s life.

According to the initiative’s website, 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown out per hour in the U.S., plastic bags kill up to 1-million sea creatures every year and Styrofoam containers use 30% of the space in landfills.

“The whole idea behind it is to get people off of single-serving disposable products,” Bleiler said.

After earning a silver medal at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, Bleiler realized the platform she has to create environmental products and initiatives.

“Being a professional snowboarder for the past 10 years I’ve been traveling around the world chasing the snow year-round and because of that I’ve seen the effects of climate change first hand,” Bleiler said.

The idea for the challenge emerged last fall when Bleiler was chosen as the keynote speaker for the Association of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Student Summit. Rather than using only words to convey her message to the students, the two-time Olympian wanted to come up with a call to action.

Plastic-free is a practice Bleiler was already living.

“I always carry a big purse with me so I’ll try to stuff as much food into the purse as possible,” Bleiler explained. “People look at me like I’m crazy but it’s cool and it really is all about preparation and being more aware, and that’s the difference.”

Of course sticking to the challenge isn’t always easy, even for Bleiler.

“The first challenge I did, I was flying and I was craving Chinese food and got to the Chinese restaurant, picked out exactly what I wanted and started to order and said, ‘Wait, what do you put the food in?’ and of course they pulled out a Styrofoam container so I said, “Sorry I can’t have that,” so I went and got a piece of pizza instead.”

After the initial 21 Day Reusable Challenge kicked off in October 2010, Bleiler launched the website and geared up to launch the second challenge using one of the biggest platforms in sport: the Winter X Games. She convinced her fellow snowboarders and skiers to try the challenge, then take it to another level by engaging their fans and followers in it. One of those athletes was two-time Olympic halfpipe snowboarder Elena Hight.

Hight, who is also very passionate about the environment and green energy, was immediately on board with the idea and is excited Bleiler is advocating for easy ways to help the environment. The connection between environmental consciousness and Olympic snowboarders was a no-brainer for Hight.

“Our sport is so dependent on the environment and climate change affects our sport so much,” Hight said. “We snowboard for a living but it’s also what we love and grew up doing. Everything depends on our world, but it’s our career, it’s our love, it’s our hobby.”

Carrying a reusable water bottle and reusable bags was simple but the challenge helped Hight realize how common Styrofoam is in her daily life. After realizing pre-packaged meat and fish sold in grocery stores comes in Styrofoam, she encouraged her Facebook fans to go to a deli and buy their food packaged fresh in paper or foil. Being a fan of to-go food, especially while traveling the world, did not make things easy either.

“I definitely made a menace of a few places but usually if you say, ‘I really don’t use Styrofoam is there any way you can get me some paper plates?’ most places are pretty helpful,” Hight said.

She has since participated in Bleiler’s third challenge, which was launched on April 22 – Earth Day. Hight encourages anyone who is skeptical about the challenge to break it down and try taking on one part of it.

“If you know some of the facts, like for instance plastic water bottles are the number one thing that fills up our landfills today,” Hight said. “Just knowing that, even if you can pick one thing to cut out instead of trying to tackle it all, then that little bit is going to make a difference.”

Like Hight, Bleiler is using the power of social media to expand the reach of the challenge. She created a Facebook page for the challenge where participants post photos and stories of the creative ways they live plastic-free. Bleiler reviews the five posts with the most ‘Like’s at the end of each challenge and chooses a grand prize winner and sends them sustainable products to congratulate them.

One fan posted a photo of his reusable water bottle filled with spaghetti, after leaving a restaurant that offered only Styrofoam to-go containers. The prizes have included K2 Eco Pop snowboards, items from Oakley’s Gretchen Bleiler collection of outerwear and Bleiler’s own creation: ALEX.

ALEX, which stands for Always Live Extraordinarily, is a reusable, eco-friendly water bottle Bleiler and husband Chris Hotell, a sports marketing manager at Oakley, invented two years ago. ALEX was created with what they call CST – Clean Seam Technology. ALEX opens in the middle so it is easy to effectively clean the inside of the bottle. The product was featured at the International Housewares Show in March and was recently picked up by The Container Store.

“The whole point,” Bleiler said of the bottle, “is to make sustainability simple and for it to be easy for people to live a cleaner lifestyle.”

And the point of the challenge?

“To leave this world a little better than it was before we came and make a positive impact.”

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Posted on: June 10, 2011