It’s Plastic Free July, and over 250 million individuals from 177 countries have pledged to reduce their plastic usage for the month of July.
- Founded by the Australian-based Plastic Free Foundation, the movement aims to raise awareness about plastic pollution and support eco-minded individuals in reaching their zero-waste goals.
The Big Picture: Shifting away from single-use plastics is not an easy task, especially during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, barriers like location, housing type, and affordability can make it even more difficult to practice a zero-waste lifestyle and participate in movements like Plastic Free July.
Given that the wellbeing of our planet depends on a significant reduction in plastic use, accessibility within the zero waste movement must be made a priority in order for the movement to be effective.
Location: Practicing a zero-waste lifestyle can be very difficult at an average grocery store, so most zero wasters turn to health or specialty food stores with adequate bulk sections.
- Often, these types of stores are located in upper-middle-class or gentrified neighbourhoods, presenting social and transportation barriers to consumers not residing near them.
- In Ottawa, for example, the city’s first zero-waste grocery store, Nu Grocery, opened up in Westboro, an area infamous for its history of gentrification.
Housing: Another barrier to participation in the movement is the housing type. In many apartment buildings, compost facilities are not used or permitted. A major part of the zero waste movement relies solely on the production of compostable waste.
- Yet for those who cannot properly dispose of compostable waste, participation becomes much more restrictive.
- While residents in these places could find off-site composting options, having the time to be able to do this regularly is a privilege in itself.
Affordability: In terms of pricing, there is little data comparing the affordability of a zero-waste lifestyle with a non-zero waste lifestyle. However, greenwashing heavily dominates the zero waste community.
- Many companies have seized this movement as a way to sell expensive reusable products or products that appear to have greener packaging and sustainability standards.
- Although the movement is rooted in anti-consumerism, the heavy presence of greenwashing within zero waste content perpetuates the stigma that individuals must purchase new tools and accessories to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle.
So why should it matter that the zero waste movement is inaccessible to lower and lower-middle-class individuals? On one hand, it is admirable that individuals who are able to are using their purchasing power to reduce their waste. Yet, this small-scale level of change is not going to be enough to address our planet’s current plastic pollution problem.
- To effectively reduce plastic waste, experts agree that all consumers will need to reduce their usage of single-use plastics.
A mass reduction in single-use waste will significantly reduce carbon emissions.
- A study conducted by Zero Waste Europe found that some of the most common single-use products produced by the EU, single-use baby nappies and menstrual products, are each responsible for 245,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year.
- Beyond emissions, a reduction in single-use items benefits local economies and municipalities, as mass transitions to reusable products can lead to millions of dollars in savings in waste and sewage management sectors.
- In Canada, a 90% diversion in landfill waste by 2030 would result in $500 million in savings, over 42,000 jobs created, and an annual reduction of 1.8 Metric Tonnes of CO2.
In addition to offering many benefits for the environment and economy, mass waste-reduction is popular among the public.
- Almost 94% of Canadians would like to reduce the single-use food packaging waste that they consume, with almost 90% of them in favour of government mandates to support this goal and over 70% in favour of a plastic ban.
This suggests that many Canadians feel as though more support is needed to tackle this issue, whether that be financial, ease of accessibility, or legislation changes.
The Bottom Line: If we want to save our planet from its plastic pollution crisis, breaking down barriers to accessibility within the zero waste movement is crucial. This will not happen overnight but should be a collective effort from citizens and government.
- Municipal governments must increase access to composting within cities.
- Zero-waste store owners and community influencers must work to reach a broader demographic and break down affordability stigma within the movement.
- Corporations must be held accountable for their significant contributions to global plastic pollution.
For those of us who can reduce our waste, we must continue to do so, and extend our efforts beyond the month of July. Existing zero-wasters have made a good start, but substantive change requires that we push for wider-scale, accessible and more inclusive implementation of the zero waste movement.
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