Plastic, Sister Sharon’s eco passion

A first of year dialogue with Sr. Sharon O’Grady gives us plenty to think about as we head into 2019 with Planet Earth needing our attention and positive actions. Sr. Sharon is especially concerned about water and how our excessive use of plastic is destroying its quality. She is also deeply saddened that people’s continued use of plastic isn’t helping to turn things around for the environment.

What weighs heaviest on your mind and heart when you reflect on the status of the environment?

We live lives where so many of us are no longer affiliated with the poor of this world. We need to keep our connection with them and always remember the poor when we make lifestyle choices. Poor people and their communities are impacted the most by our degradation and destruction of Earth. Our actions – our consumer choices, our wasteful use of natural resources – affect the poor unjustly. We heed the call of what Pope Francis encourages us to do; that is, to undergo an ecological conversion to help heal the earth and reach out to the poor.

Can you explain what Pope Francis’ call for an ecological conversion means to you?

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis issues a warning on the “destruction of the human environment” and challenges all of us to be better stewards of creation. For me, this means being aware of our complicity in harming the earth and, therefore, the poor through the choices we make. It means shifting our attitudes and changing our behavior so that we truly care for people and safeguard the planet. And it means living a simple lifestyle that does not waste resources. Most importantly, it means being a part of the solution rather than the problem.

Last year at the Spring Area Meetings the Eco Zeal Core group gave a summary of the community reports regarding our efforts to be aware of our use of water. We are hoping to continue with this.  After the meetings the Eco Zeal group sent out information about the UN’s concern regarding plastic. I hope that communities are also seeking to use less plastic.  

Sr. Sharon O’Grady gives Sisters foldable reusable bags made from recycled plastic as an incentive to say “no” to disposable plastic bags when they go shopping.

What is it about plastic that concerns you most?

Plastic is destroying the waterways. It is killing aquatic life in all of its forms. Sea animals are starving to death because they eat plastic bits thinking it’s creel or other food. Their bellies fill up on plastic, and they starve to death. Plastic is commonly found in our drinking water and even in our salt. It is difficult to keep the plastic out of the water and difficult to purify the water that contains it. It is not yet known how damaging this is to us at this point.  

Realistically, what can be done about plastic? It’s ubiquitous.

I know that our actions can make a difference. I mentioned in the province assembly reflection in October that as I try to conserve water and deal with plastic, I am becoming increasingly aware that I am part of a culture that mindlessly wastes and pollutes.

In fact, I am aware that I, too, mindlessly waste and pollute water all the time just in the way I use the faucet, and by what I allow to go down the drain.  I struggle with this issue.

As one Sister said to me, “Plastic is everywhere and on everything.” My simple efforts to conserve are making me more aware. Hopefully, all of us are growing in awareness through our efforts.

I must admit that I often find myself weak and hypocritical; it is difficult after living so many years with so much.

I am proud of the efforts of the Province Center Sisters regarding their efforts with plastic. We do not buy water in plastic bottles. And we purchased some glassware with lids to use for leftovers instead of covering bowls with saran wrap.

Of course, we need to do more of this. We recycle plastic containers and we have a special bin for plastic wrap. Plastic wrap includes bubble wrap and the film that covers bread, newspapers, fruits and vegetables and beverage bottles and many other common foods. When the bin gets full, I take the film wrap to Target, a collection point in St. Louis. Target has large bins for the plastic. A company picks up the film routinely and transports it to locations where the film wrap is used to make recycled products. 

Sr. Sharon would like for everyone to stop using plastic. When using plastic proves impossible and simply can’t be helped, she encourages us to recycle every item of plastic that can be recycled, even plastic film wrap.

I also buy reusable bags (for 99 cents) from IKEA that fold up and fit easily into a purse. I have passed them out to our Sisters at the Province Center and to our staff. I’ve been doing this to discourage the use of one-time-use plastic bags. Our oceans are full of them.  

What other decisions have you made as a part of your ecological conversion?

I love to read books, and I have always enjoyed buying books. Books mean a lot to me. But I have made an active choice not to buy them. This does not mean that I would not buy one on occasion, but not as often as in the past. Books require cutting down trees and using tons of water. 

Another decision I have made is to reduce my consumption of meat. I have been working at not eating meat. The meat industry is cruel and wasteful. It is one of the biggest polluters of air and water, and is an enormous consumer of fresh water. I am working on an article for Items regarding meat. I am not alone in this. There are a number of Sisters in my community that are models for me in this. To reduce consumption of meat, particularly beef, is always on my to-do list for the environment.  

Sr. Sharon O’Grady is a member of the Province core group Eco Zeal for Mission. She is passionate about protecting the Earth, starting with her efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic.

What is at the core of your personal ecological conversion?

The core of my personal ecological conversion is that I see abuse of the earth and its peoples as integral to Good Shepherd concerns regarding the poorest and most vulnerable in our world of today.

I believe God speaks to us from the reality in which we live. Enlightenment comes from the lens of our Good Shepherd charism encountering the reality of our world of today. And, God’s call to us within the world of today challenges us to be in solidarity with the poor and hopeless of our world.  And to take off our blinders and see that God challenges us to be attentive to our Sister Earth, “the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.” (LS 2). 

It is one call really as we are such an interconnected whole.

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Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website