Why The Zero Waste Community Needs More Inclusivity
By now, most of us have heard the term “zero waste”, which one of the simple ways to put it, means to send little to no items to landfill. Zero waste living is about consuming less, being more conscious about our purchasing habits, supporting eco-friendly companies, and overall reducing our environmental impact. We’ve seen the zero waste community grow immensely over the past decade, especially as the Climate Crisis continues to rise.
But the issue with this community, is the lack of inclusion for our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Big advocates tend to be White, seemingly middle-classed women. A typical day for them consists of them making their weekly batch of almond milk and placing it in their perfectly labeled jars, putting on their $350 dollar dress that was made completely out of plastic bottles, and the plastic free produce they just purchased from their local Farmer’s Market (which of course was only a five-minute bicycle ride from their house). For some, it comes off as an unattainable lifestyle if you are not White and not in the middle-upper class, but that simply is not true.
BIPOC communities have been living zero waste lifestyles for thousands of years. Most cultures live this way without even identifying themselves as “zero waste”, as it’s just something they have always done; repurposing empty containers to store leftovers, hand-me-down clothing, using every part of an animal they just harvested, etc. Thrifting was once only for low-income communities and was only for “poor people” because it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing or “cool”. Now that it has become trendy, everyone is doing it.
Zero waste community members have a responsibility to ensure their environmental sustainability is working towards:
- Ending Fossil Fuel extractions and Fossil-Fuel based products like plastic.
- Getting commitment from agencies and local governments to stop funding false or short-term solutions like waste-to-energy.
- Addressing Food Insecurity and Food Deserts in BIPOC communities.
- Addressing Environmental Racism.
- While Indigenous people comprise 5% of the world population, Indigenous People protect about 80% of the Earth’s Biodiversity in the Forests, Deserts, Grasslands, and Marine Environments in which they have lived for centuries.
- Studies have shown that White neighborhoods have at least 4 times as many grocery stores as predominately Black neighborhoods.
- 58 incinerators, or 79 percent of all MSW incinerators in the U.S. are located in BIPOC and low-income communities. Living near these sites increase the risk of health issues as they release heavy metals and mercury into the air.
These are just some of the many reasons why this community has to be more inclusive if it is to survive and achieve its end goal in protecting Mother Earth.
The movement needs to better reflect more diverse experiences to broaden its audience. BIPOC struggle to resonate with the zero-waste movement when they do not see their own personal environmentalism experiences in conversations. It must go beyond the conversations of what zero waste products you are purchasing and consuming.
To create a more inclusive Zero Waste community, we must follow/spotlight more BIPOC leaders, broaden the topics/issues within the Zero Waste Community, & have current advocates acknowledge how their portrayal of their lifestyle comes off as inaccessible to most people, especially within the BIPOC Community, and change the narrative of what it means to be Zero Waste.
More Resources available here:
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
Environmental Justice for PFJ: BIPOC Communities Bear The Burden Of Plastic Pollution
65+ BIPOC Influencers and Creators in the Sustainable and Environmentalism Movement
Environmental Justice Organizations