Profit at a Cost: Plastic and the Intersection of Environmental and Racial Justice


BY TCHAD BARON | June 28, 2021

More and more these days, consumers are aware of their environmental footprint thanks to lawyers, academics and even the advertising of very companies putting products that are harmful to the environment on the shelves. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Consumers who are aware of the impacts of certain purchases are certainly more likely to change their consumption habits than those who are generally unaware of the process of production, consumption and disposal.

But unfortunately that is not enough. Our current situation calls for more than responsible consumerism because consumers can only be considered partially responsible in an economic system that prioritizes ever increasing production and profit. Plastic is a perfect case study. Producers and consumers alike are aware of the unfortunate toll this particular industry takes on the environment and humans, but the use of plastic continues to be trending. to the top.

And should we be surprised? The ethics of companies producing plastics are not that of concern for the common good, or our commune house, but one of the net and growing benefits – which unfortunately leads to systemic issues like environmental racism. In the United States, we see this quite clearly as local issues, related to national economic models, reveal the struggle between corporate power and local communities. Cancer Alley, Louisiana, illustrates this unfortunate trend as communities of color fight to protect their friends, family and communities from the high rates of cancer caused by local plastic production. Faced with this reality, many activists, including Catholic activists Sharon Lavigne, live the call to take care of our common home. Lavigne is is currently leading a campaign in St. James Parish to prevent another large plastics factory to be built in the area.

The struggle would not be so long or difficult if, collectively, we favored an economic system that prioritizes the well-being of society over the generation of more profits. As stated by the USCCB in A Catholic framework for economic life, “Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need, wherever they live on this planet. planet. The common good must be our goal, and we must recognize that it is inextricably linked to the health of marginalized communities and the environment. If the economy works destructively, we have a responsibility to make change, and racial and environmental justice demands it.

Changing consumption patterns is a necessary component of the effort to foster a healthier socio-economic system, but additional pressure needs to be placed on legislative bodies at local and national levels to influence business behavior. To do this, several steps can be followed:

    • Act locally: If you are aware of plastic issues in your community, it is always a good idea to contact local representatives and / or attend city council meetings, or speak to local businesses to voice your concerns.
    • Think global: Shedding light on who funds plastic production can be a powerful strategy as consumers are inclined to support companies that share their values. If plastics projects cause financial institutions to lose customers due to unwanted advertising, they will reconsider their funding strategies. The plastic waste manufacturers index is a good source to learn more about the companies that support plastic finance and how to approach plastic production at a systemic level.
    • Opt out: Consider a change you could make on a personal level to use less plastic. Although this problem was not created by individuals, we do have the power to influence the system through our collective habits.

In July, follow ISN on social media for tips on reducing your plastic use, and be sure to check out the July website plastic free.

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