What Is Environmental Justice?

Ever wonder if our current climate crisis and environmental destruction affect people differently? Unfortunately, it does, and there’s a term for it: environmental justice. 

It refers to the reality that low income, communities of color suffer the effects of climate change and environmental destruction disproportionately in comparison to the rest of the population. Of course, the justice portion calls for this injustice to be corrected and ensure the right of all people to live, work, and play in a healthy, safe, and vibrant environment.

Although this discrimination has existed as long as racism has, this reality first gained national attention in 1982, when residents of Warren County, North Carolina took to the streets to protest a proposed toxic dumpsite in their community--which is predominantly low-income and Black. Following the protests, the site was still placed in their neighborhood, prompting the U.S. General Accounting Office to conduct a study. It found that three out of the four off-site commercial hazard waste landfills in Region 4 (South) were located in predominantly Black communities, while only accounting for 20% of the population at the time. 

This discriminatory pattern is seen in various Black communities and communities of color across the country like industrial-zoned Barrio Logan, in San Diego, CA; Duplin County, North Carolina, where hog CAFOs are linked to greater disease and mortality; Flint, Michigan, where lead-contaminated and cancer-causing water was ignored for years; in the Standing Rock Sioux land, where historical Tribal agreements were violated to build a crude oil pipeline (that leaked into sacred lands)… sadly, the list goes on.

And environmental injustices take on many forms in the U.S. It manifests in continuing to ignore the demands of communities that don’t have the same access to green spaces and coastal recreation. It is amplified by disconnecting from the reality that low-income, communities of color live near facilities that white, affluent communities never would. Inherent in this is a political system that needs restructuring to accurately represent the communities it's comprised of.

When it comes to toxic dump sites--often called Superfund sites, in reference to the Superfund trust created for cleaning hazardous waste sites--they typically go untreated for years. The Superfund trust is underfunded, inefficient, and overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is only as effective as it’s funding and leadership. So when oil-backed EPA appointees are in charge of the environment, corporations take priority. 

Essentially, the communities that suffer the greatest impacts economically and socially suffer the greatest environmental impacts, too. When thinking about environmentalism, like reducing our waste, it’s necessary to center environmental justice in our efforts toward a better future.

At The Waste Less Shop, we hope to be a source of education and action towards a thriving planet for all communities. We know we won’t be perfect but like with reducing our waste, the effort matters. Here are some ways you can help, too:

  • Donate to organizations doing impactful environmental justice work, like Earthjustice and Indigenous Environmental Network
  • Get involved in local actions to help defend the rights of communities disproportionately burdened, through non-profits and organizing with community members
  • Vote for representatives and legislation that reflect the needs of our communities as well as the environment -- Ballotpedia is a great source to help you educate yourself before the next election!
  • Consciously spend your money in ways that help uplift marginalized communities, with help from apps like Buycott
  • Follow us on Instagram for more education and helpful information on environmental justice
  • Share educational resources + get others involved!

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