Think about how much plastic you use daily: straws, grocery bags, sandwich bags, water bottles, bottle caps, forks, spoons, cups, containers, and packaging.
All that adds up. In 2021 the average American used 309 pounds of plastic — and only about 5% got recycled. Most of the other 95% ended up in oceans or landfills where just one plastic water bottle can take up to 450 years to degrade.
That’s why in 2011, Australian climate advocate Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, executive director of the Plastic Free Foundation, created Plastic Free July. The effort is a month-long challenge to inspire people to reduce — or even completely eliminate — their plastic use.
According to its website, Plastic Free July hopes to show people they can “be part of the solution to plastic pollution — so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities.”
No one wants fish and turtles swallowing floating bottle caps because they think the garbage is food, but it turns out plastic pollution is also making Black folks sick.
How Plastic Pollution Harms Black People
A 2019 report from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives revealed that people of color are more likely to be impacted by plastic pollution. That’s because 79% of incinerators are in communities of color, and inhaling burned plastic can be deadly.
Desiree McGill, a 24-year-old San Francisco-based climate content creator tells Word In Black thatl, “plastic pollution leads to a range of health problems, including respiratory issues, cancer, and disruptions in the endocrine system.”
“Black communities may be at a heightened risk because they are more likely to experience the combined impacts of exposure to plastic pollutants and other environmental stressors,” McGill says.
Racial segregration also contributes to the problem.
“Incinerators, landfills, and factories are more often not put into Black neighborhoods. It’s not in my backyard type of mentality that affluent neighborhoods tend to have,” says non-profit director and climate justice activist Ayia Lindquist.
“You would never find a factory in a white, affluent backyard,” Lindquist says. “You could find it in a Black, poor backyard.”
Bringing Solutions to the Table
Black climate justice advocates like McGill and Lindquist have ideas about how to reduce plastic use.
“The number one solution to plastic waste is education,” McGill says. “Bring awareness to this issue and provide education for others to share with their community.”
Lindquist believes Black folks should do more than talk about plastic waste and its impact on our communities.
“Reduce what you’re buying. You want to find a way to repurpose something that you’ve already used,” she says.
And although you may not recycle, it’s never too late to start — and be consistent with it.
Meanwhile, Plastic Free July also offers resources and ideas to help people reduce their plastic use and waste. Their challenge encourages people to give up plastic — or at least some kids of plastic — for one day, a week, or an entire month.
“Be mindful of what you’re doing is really the first step. Reduce, reuse, recycle,” Lindquist says.
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