Plastic, Social Justice and Events - How are They All Connected?

PLASTIC CUPS, PLASTIC CUTLERY, PLASTIC STRAWS –  is it really that bad? It’s cheap, we can use it and then recycle it – which means it can just be used over and over again right? WRONG. Let me explain…

First and foremost, plastic is predominantly made from petroleum chemicals (oil and gas), which are already huge contributors to climate change. From extracting to transporting to the use of oil – carbon dioxide and other carcinogens are released at each stage of the process. And since carbon is a greenhouse gas, it prevents the heat that is reflected away from the earth’s surface to be trapped and thus causing more warming to the earth’s average temperature. And as much as I hate winter as any fellow Canadian – this warming is BAD. An increase in global temperatures drastically shifts things like the frequency and strength of natural disasters (hello Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami and earthquake), the growing regions and periods of crops (goodbye farmers) and the sea level rising (Have you see Venice lately?).

Once a product is made and we buy items like plastic cups from the dollar store or through online avenues like Amazon it is shipped (usually by air), which releases even more carbon dioxide. After the plastic arrives on-site at an event, these items are more or less used once and then tossed into the recycling bin.

At the end of the festival, conference or wedding these plastic items are collected in our magical blue bin. We would like to think that our waste management companies are recycling them. Unfortunately, ONLY 9% of items in Canada are actually recycled! ONLY 9% – HOW INSANE IS THAT?! For the small percentage of items that do end up being recycled, it can actually only occur once or maybe twice. Once melted down and made into new products, the bonds aren’t strong enough to hold together to continue to create high quality products. Afterwards, it can be down cycled into things like carpeting or fleece fibres. After the end of that product’s life, it ultimately ends up in the landfill or being incinerated.

So if the majority items aren’t being recycled, where do they end up? As CBC Marketplace discovered, it’s sold to foreign countries in Asia, incinerated or in the landfill. Regardless of where it ends up, guess who’s affected most by these consequences? That’s right, Black Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC).

Due to things like systemic racism, BIPOC were forced to live in less desirable neighbourhoods. These marginalized communities are generally located next to incineration factories with tons of toxic chemicals polluting the air, are downstream from a manufacturing plant or even beside landfills (as plastic slowly releases chemicals into the ground and groundwater). This is inclusive of both developed and developing nations around the globe. There is no environmental justice without social justice, as environmentalists we need to care about people and the planet.

So now what? As event planners, what can we do?

Apart from reducing or stopping to buy NEW single-use plastic altogether…

We need to listen to BIPOC and amplify their voices.

We need to partner and work with BIPOC vendors in the events industry.

We need to support Environmental Justice Organizations that advocate and support BIPOC.

And we need to take the Intersectional Environmentalist Pledge.

Now who’s with me?

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