To understand why material waste prevails in our world, we must evaluate the systems of injustice that waste and pollution rely on to thrive. In systems of inequality, there are groups considered expendable by those that have decision-making power. These groups are forced to pay the price for their decisions that entail short term economic growth but long-term negative consequences. 

This inequity manifests itself as environmental injustices towards specific racial and social groups. For example, low-income BIPOC communities in the U.S. and Global South nations face the brunt of the side effects from plastic and petrochemical production. Many of our domestic waste is funneled into facilities in communities that are predominantly home to BIPOC, leaving them to deal with the unwanted presence and health effects of such waste management. Meanwhile, the majority of our waste and recycling is shipped overseas, primarily to the Global South, where the waste is further mismanaged. 

Keep reading below to learn more about waste injustice and see why major reform to our current waste system is needed to protect not only our planet itself, but our marginalized people as well.  


  1. What really happens to the plastic you throw away
    • Although this informative video mostly focuses on the wildlife and ecological impacts of plastic’s lifecycle, it’s a great introduction on just how much damage plastic can wreak on a community. This is a good place to start understanding the ecological imbalance that results from increasing single-use plastic production and thinking about who is impacted from this production. What about the people who live by petroleum refineries? What about the people who live near polluted waters? We need to think about why powerful organizations specifically target these communities to bear the burden of ecological harm.
  2. Louisiana greenlights huge pollution-causing plastics facility in ‘Cancer Alley’ 
  3. 2019 Guardian Report of 11 Countries Tracks how U.S. Waste Overwhelms the Poorest Nations 
    • This report underlines the global environmental injustice of waste distribution. While Global North countries like America produce and consume the greatest amounts of material, Global South countries such as Vietnam and Thailand deal with the afterlife of this excess.
  4. A Reality Check on Environmental Racism and Plastics
    • This informative blog post from the Surfrider Foundation links us to case studies and new stories that show why plastic production, use, and disposal cause environmental racism. The post also discusses potential solutions and movements to follow.
  5. Beyond the Glass Jar: A Discussion on Waste and Environmental Racism
    • Look through these slides to learn more about the event that the Environmental Justice Collective and Green Events put on. We discuss waste justice in Austin and action items to follow up on this issue. 

Action Items

After reading, watching, or listening about this topic, you might be feeling a little distressed about the unfair state of waste. I don’t blame you! Take a break if you need to! After the break, if you feel empowered to do so, check out the below list for individual action items and collective movements to learn about that deal with the issues stated above.

  1. Stop Formosa 
    • Stop Formosa is a movement to prohibit the construction of a $9.4 billion petrochemical complex by Formosa Plastics in St James, Louisiana. St. James is a predominantly Black community whose people already suffer from health conditions due to the current plants there. Stay updated with the movement to Stop Formosa.
  2. Break Free From Plastic 
    • BFPP is a global overarching organization that acts on the values of environmental protection and social justice. Visit their website to stay updated on how they’re leading this movement with many other organizations.
  3. People Over Petro
    • This coalition is focused on the Ohio River Valley and beyond to protect and amplify the people’s wellbeing over corporate fossil fuel interests. Visit their website to follow their campaign and learn more.
  4. Write a Letter to Austin Officials about Addressing the Landfill in East Austin
    • This template is provided by the Texas Campaign for Environment. Refer to Beyond the Glass Jar event slides to learn more about how a community landfill has been troubling East Austin.