Take Action for Environmental Justice this Juneteenth (and Every Day)

Juneteenth is a celebration of Black resilience and an urgent call to action to address long-standing discrimination, including the environmental injustices Black people in America continue to face.

This Sunday, June 19, we observe Juneteenth, a day marking the end of chattel slavery in the United States. The first people to celebrate Juneteenth were enslaved Blacks in Galveston, Texas, who claimed their stolen freedom at the end of the Civil War. 

At its core, Juneteenth is about Black resilience despite widespread systemic exploitation and abuse. At the same time, it is a stark reminder that the movement for Black freedom and equality in the United States is still underway today.

While many Black communities across the country have celebrated Juneteenth for more than 150 years, the date was only recognized by the U.S. government as a Federal holiday in 2021. Such delayed “official” designation is symbolic of the larger scale delay in establishing true freedom and equality for all, repairing relations and making reparations, and eliminating the racism and discrimination that runs through American society and culture. 

Awareness of the need to urgently address the myriad forms of racial discrimination against Black people—including violent policing, housing discrimination, voter suppression, and an unjust criminal justice system—appears to be spreading. But there is much more work to be done to establish racial equity in the U.S. 

One of the most pervasive and harmful forms of bigotry Black communities face today is environmental injustice. In the U.S., substantial environmental injustices—against Black communities, and other underserved groups of people—are perpetuated by the plastics and petrochemical industries and aided by government subsidies, activities, processes, legislation, and political support.

Environmental Injustice is Racism

Racialized communities, especially Black communities, have long been disproportionately burdened with environmental pollution and industrial hazards. This burden is intentional, and both the industries creating pollution and the governments facilitating the unjust placement of polluting infrastructure, activities, and waste perpetuate this environmental injustice. 

Racist zoning laws and governance, housing and voter discrimination, industry lobbying and bribery, and other insidious forms of racism have historically ensured the majority of Black people live and work in the most polluted places in the United States.  

As a result of environmental injustice, Black people are three times more likely to die from exposure to air pollutants than White people and are forced to shoulder a wide range of physical and emotional costs linked to living in proximity to dangerous pollution and industrial activities. Environmental injustice remains one of the biggest threats to Black lives today.

The Links Between Plastics and Environmental Injustice

In the U.S., Black people are more likely than other racial groups to live near hazardous waste sites and other polluting infrastructure. All parts of the plastics and petrochemical pipelines pose significant risks to human health and disproportionately harm vulnerable communities. Such discrimination has been deemed criminal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and identified as an urgent human rights issue by the United Nations—and yet, it is extremely widespread. 

The entire plastics pipeline destructively impacts the natural environment, clearing and polluting lands that should be protected. It also exposes people to myriad kinds of serious pollution, including significant releases of climate-warming greenhouse gases and high levels of particulate air pollution known to diminish heart and respiratory health.

Near fossil fuel extraction sites (such as oil and gas wells), along fuel pipeline routes, and at refineries, people are exposed to air, water, and soil pollution, and face high risk of spills, fires, explosions, and other potentially lethal accidents.

Around plastics manufacturing facilities and transportation routes, people face similar risks to those living on the fencelines of refineries, plus microplastic pollution in the form of plastic pellets (also called “nurdles”). Plastic pellets, like all plastics, contain toxic chemicals and are known to accumulate in our bodies and the environment. 

Plastic pollutes throughout its existence, harming people who live near landfills, incinerators, waste rail or truck transportation routes and hubs, sorting facilities, recycling plants (where little plastic is truly recycled), and illegal dumps. Waste-related infrastructure and activities pollute air, water, and soils with hazardous chemicals and noise, and diminish quality of life. 

Logistics centers—warehouses designed to hold products often made of plastic and shipped to order—pollute surrounding communities with plastics and chemicals. They also require constant truck traffic, creating environmental and noise pollution.  

The corporations involved engage in a variety of tactics designed to deflect and distract from and diminish the true harm they are causing. Their tactics typically include providing members of harmed communities with “freebies” such as stuffed “back-to-school packs” or building playgrounds (often in proximity to dangerous industrial infrastructure) for children—who are highly vulnerable to the effects of pollution. Polluters also maliciously attempt to ease the minds of people living in the communities they harm directly by holding information fairs or distributing “informational” materials full of misinformation crafted to minimize pollution concerns. 

What’s more, both the industries causing pollution and representatives and governments tasked with regulating them choose to communicate in English at the exclusion of other languages. The omission, and by consequence dismissal and disrespect, of non-dominant languages is language injustice. It too plays a role in ensuring the silence of communities harmed by industrial development, pollution, and lack of governmental protection. 

Support Environmental Justice in Black Communities

Every person deserves to live in a healthy environment without having to carry a disproportionate pollution burden. As underserved communities have long been expressing, they deserve clean water to drink and clean air to breathe. They deserve much better.

You can support environmental justice for all, even if you do not live in a community directly harmed by industrial development and pollution. This Juneteenth (and every day), we urge you to help:

1. Learn the facts

Take the crucial first step to acting as an environmental justice advocate and ally! Educate yourself about the links between systemic racism, the plastics and petrochemical industries, and the disproportionate health risks Black and underserved communities face. (This blog is a great start.)

Check out additional resources on the connections between the plastics and petrochemical industries and environmental injustice in this excellent blog from Plastic Pollution Coalition member Surfrider Foundation.

We also suggest you take a few Toxic Tours with our partners at Break Free From Plastic. Toxic Tours are community-led storytelling and mapping experiences that reveal the impacts of plastic production on frontline communities from across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Plastic Pollution Coalition is hosting a webinar about Toxic Tours on June 24 where you can learn more about this important project from frontline representatives, Break Free From Plastic, and collaborators. Learn more and sign up.

2. Amplify frontline voices
A core part of the change necessary to counter continued environmental injustice is to make others aware of systemic racism and how it drives environmental injustice. After learning more about environmental justice, support frontline communities by amplifying and uplifting their voices and stories. Share media featuring Black community leaders, such as Sharon Lavigne in St. James Parish, Louisiana, with your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and on social media.

3. Hold systems accountable

Frontline communities are working hard to change the broken systems that drive environmental injustice. If feasible for you, make a financial donation or volunteer with groups serving frontline communities. 

Get involved in local issues where you live—even if you’re not living in or near a frontline community:

  • Learn more about the ways your municipality governance and activities run by attending and participating in local meetings.
  • Vote in your elections after researching each candidate and their stance on environmental justice issues.
  • Pay special attention to what is communicated and done with issues related to environment, zoning, industry, land use, and policy enforcement. 
  • Practice language justice by advocating for all members of your community to have equal opportunity to participate in local processes through access to verbal, written, physical, and other interpretive services readily available and accessible in their language.

In these ways, you can advocate for transparency and prioritization of equity, safety, and health for all people, starting where you live. Use your new knowledge about environmental justice to shape your own values and priorities. Also keep your eyes on the need for wider opportunities for systems change, such as federal legislation to hold polluters and governments accountable.

Join Plastic Pollution Coalition and allies in asking President Biden and Administration officials to stop approvals for new and expanded petrochemical and plastic facilities.

4. Speak with your wallet

As mentioned, plastics and petrochemical corporations intentionally spread misinformation in order to continue selling their lethal products. You can show allyship and support for frontline communities by doing your research on corporations’ environmental justice track records before you shop. 

It’s almost always better to shop local and avoid buying from big corporations—which typically cause outsized harm to the environment. They also tend to have poor (and often appalling) social justice track records. Large corporations’ “profit-over-people” focus drives environmental injustice. Avoid funding corporations by causing harm by purchasing directly from small businesses, particularly those that are owned and operated by BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) individuals.

5. Join Juneteenth environmental justice events

Check with your local organizations, NAACP chapters, faith groups, and other community groups to join events bringing attention to environmental justice on and around this Juneteenth. 

We’ve compiled a small selection of such events held on and around this Juneteenth 2022, below, to help get you started:

Virtual and in-person at the University of Michigan

In-person in Pennsylvania

Support Black communities harmed by environmental injustice—not just on Juneteenth but every day!

The 6th annual Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship will be held on Thursday, December 10 at 7pm EST. The award honors those who address the root causes of environmental injustice in the United States, with a strong focus on racial justice in the face of oil, gas, and petrochemical activity. 

The event will feature inspirational speakers, short video presentations, and recognition and celebration of the Sentinel Award winners. The ceremony will be followed by a reception broken up into several virtual rooms. Members of the media and friends in the environmental justice movement are invited to tune in to this special occasion.

Four recipients from across the nation have been selected by a panel of esteemed judges to receive the 2020 Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship: 

  • Edith Abeyta of North Braddock, Pennsylvania
  • Theresa Landrum of Detroit, Michigan,
  • Brenda Jo “BJ” McManama of Fairmont, West Virginia
  • Yvette Arellano of Houston, Texas

The awardees exemplify the transformative power of grassroots organizing, community mobilization, and dedication to our shared environment. 

The keynote speaker will be Rev. Dr. Abrose Carroll, founder of Green the Church, a national nonprofit that works with the Black Church in efforts to fight the climate crisis.

Plastic Pollution Coalition hosted TEDxPlasticPollutionCoalition on Oct. 14, where speakers from across the globe addressed plastic pollution and its connection to climate, justice, health, and equity. This event was part of the inaugural TED Countdown, a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action.

Watch TEDxPlasticPollutionCoalition now.

Featured speakers and performers included:

  • Dianna Cohen, Visual Artist and Co-Founder & CEO, Plastic Pollution Coalition
  • Cole Hall, PPC Youth Ambassador
  • Chris Anderson, Head of TED 
  • Lindsay Levin, Entrepreneur, Activist
  • Alfre Woodard, Actor/Producer
  • Xiye Bastida, Climate Youth Activist and Co-Founder, Re-Earth Initiative
  • Amanda Gorman, Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States
  • Van Jones, CNN Political Contributor, Host of the Van Jones Show and The Redemption Project
  • Yvette Arellano, Frontline Environmental Justice Advocate
  • Jackson Browne, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Singer and Songwriter, featuring Watkins Family Hour
  • David Lammy, Member of Parliament, UK 
  • Keb’ Mo, Grammy Award-winning Singer and Songwriter

Together we can stop plastic pollution. Get involved by signing a petition, joining our global Coalition, or donating to support our work. Thank you for adding your voice!

Photo by Rob Bulmahn, Philadelphia, PA, June 2, 2020

George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and so many others have been murdered by police and vigilantes, and this violence must end. We at Plastic Pollution Coalition add our voices to the collective grief. We acknowledge the pain and trauma Black people and communities are facing and have faced for hundreds of years, and we stand with the Movement for Black Lives.

As the protests against police brutality and racial violence continue across the United States and around the world, Plastic Pollution Coalition stands in solidarity with people and groups—including many of our Coalition members—working to end racism and systemic oppression. 

We stand with groups doing vital Environmental Justice work and call on ourselves and our colleagues to be active allies and find ways to work together to advance racial justice and empower communities. 

In many parts of the world including the Global South, the voices of Black, Indigenous, and communities of Color are included and uplifted in the environmental movement. We recognize in the United States this work has a long way to go. We are breaking out of these silos to reimagine and fix this broken system of power. We are speaking up and demanding change.

We are outraged at the violence and injustice that Black people and Black communities are facing. We have witnessed the powerful connection between environmental and social injustice and racism through air pollution caused by incineration plants, water contamination, and many other environmental injustices and recognize these are all part of a single, globally-connected Movement for Justice. 

We will work in collaboration with tens of thousands of individual Coalition members and more than 1,200 groups globally, to change systems of oppression, and end white supremacy by advocating for social, economic, and environmental justice for all.

What can you do? Join the weekend of action June 19-21.

For our allies who want to further unpack and explore their role in dismantling white supremacy, we have compiled a list of resources and readings below. We invite you to share other resources and readings you have found to be useful by filling out the form at the bottom of this page.

Resources:

 Readings:

  1. Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
  2. How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  3. 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice by Corinne Shutack
  4. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism by Dr. Robin DiAngelo
  5. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  6. Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson
  7. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Olou
  8. Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  9. Article: 5 Things White People Can Do Right Now to Combat White Supremacist Violence by Showing Up for Racial Justice
  10. Racial Equity Tools: Environmental Justice – Key Sites, Research & Practices
  11. Environmental Health and Racial Equity in the United States: Building Environmentally Just, Sustainable, and Livable Communities

A new report released by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) raises new and significant questions about the economic rationale for the massive wave of new infrastructure investments in plastics and petrochemicals. Untested Assumptions and Unanswered Questions in the Plastics Boom highlights global changes that threaten to dramatically disrupt the plastic industry at both ends of its supply chain, fundamentally altering both the costs of plastics production and the demand for plastic products.

As companies ramp up investments to create more plastic, they are banking on plastic infrastructure being profitable for decades to come. This assumes that demand for plastic will continue increasing and that plastics production will continue to be heavily subsidized by demand for the fossil fuels that supply chemicals critical to plastic production. However, the new report exposes changes in the economy, government regulations, and consumer attitudes worldwide that could make these investments much riskier than previously assumed.

“The fossil fuel and plastic industries are both undergoing major disruptions but are continuing to operate under business-as-usual assumptions,” said Steven Feit, CIEL Attorney and lead author of the report. “Even as the phase-out of fossil fuels threatens to make plastics production more expensive, public pressure and government actions to limit plastic pollution are poised to reduce demand for disposable plastic in the years ahead. The industry will be increasingly squeezed from both sides: supply and demand. Investors (and communities) that don’t challenge these assumptions and demand clear answers about these projects are putting money — and livelihoods — at risk.”

As fossil fuels provide the primary material for plastic production, the shale gas boom in the United States has fueled a massive influx of investment in new and expanded plastic production infrastructure. But to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement, governments around the world have agreed to phase out fossil fuels, which will make plastic production more expensive. At the same time, consumers are demanding an end to disposable plastics, governments are banning or taxing single-use plastic products, and the United Nations is undertaking an international campaign to reduce marine plastic pollution. These shifting attitudes — at every level — could mean decreased demand for plastic.

“These changes raise serious questions about the industry’s mad dash to expand the fossil plastics industry when it is clear that both fossil fuel use and plastic use must rapidly decline,” says co-author and CIEL President Carroll Muffett. “We already know the planet can’t afford these new plants. The question is: Why do investors think they can?”

This new report builds on CIEL’s Fueling Plastics research series that exposes the links between the fossil fuel and plastic industries, the massive wave of investments planned to expand plastic production infrastructure, and how long the plastics industry has known that their products pollute oceans.

Take Action to stop plastic pollution.

Join our global Coalition. 

Plastic pollution is a global crisis, and together we are rising up to solve it. As 2017 comes to a close, PPC offers this status update, including some of our achievements this year and where we are headed next:

  • The first-ever jointly developed Global Plastic Reduction Toolkit has completed development of Phase 1, focused on resources to pass and implement plastic bag legislation. Phase 2, including the collection of polystyrene resources and development of a public online access portal, will launch in Q2 2018. The Toolkit will be presented at the International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego, CA, in March 2018.
  • ReThink Plastic, PPC’s 18 month pilot study with Child Health and Development (CHD) Studies, funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Fund, will be completed in Q1 2018. First year results show significant behavior change was achieved from the study’s intervention approach. PPC is applying for a three year grant to expand dissemination in March 2018.
  • In partnership with Made Safe, PPC has developed an online Healthy Baby Guide targeted at expecting and new parents, and launched December 2017, to inform, educate, and recommend products to reduce exposure to plastics and the chemicals used in plastics during this crucial time of development. An expanded social media campaign to promote the Healthy Baby Guide will begin in Q1 2018.
  • In 2017, PPC’s The Last Plastic Straw campaign recruited over 500 restaurants and businesses to change their plastic straw policies and removed over 10 million straws from our waterways, oceans, and environment. 2018 will include an ambitious program to change law and policy, continue coordination of the global Straws Working Group, and increased public education with communities, schools, youth groups, and awareness through STRAWS film screenings, and coordinated straw-free days and months.
  • By harnessing the power of art, video, and storytelling, the Plastic Pollution Citizen Action Hub has increased the reach of our message by more than 100 percent, reaching over 500,000 people per week through our website and social media. Original public service shorts Open Your Eyes and There Is No Away garnered more than 20 million views. PPC is producing new pieces on microplastics, plastic straws, and experimenting with instructional shorts, live streaming, and creating “Plastic Free Minute”  radio spots.
  • The Plastic Free Island campaign model brings together Island and local stakeholders to reduce and eliminate single-use plastic such as straws, bottles, cups, and bags on islands and coastal communities around the globe. PPC has helped establish Plastic Free Island programs in Belize, Indonesia, Kefalonia (Greece) and St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) and is working to make the model available to other islands and coastal communities, expanding across Greece and the Caribbean.
  • In 2017, PPC elevated the issue of plastic pollution on the world stage through participation in the United Nations (UN) conference Our Ocean in Malta, and the 3rd UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya (see our newsletter updates, Issues 1, 2, and 3). PPC will be participating in the 2018 6th International Marine Debris Conference hosted by UNEP and NOAA in San Diego, CA in March.
  • PPC will partner again with Mission Blue, Oceanic Society, and Drifter’s Project to produce a second sailing expedition to study, observe, and document the impact of plastic pollution and ecotourism throughout Palau in November 2018. This will coincide with an education and policy program for Palau as a Plastic Free Island, in partnership with Heirs to Our Oceans.

This is the most ambitious PPC has ever been.

We invite you to be in on the ground floor with your end of year, tax-deductible gift to PPC .

Thank you for your support to protect human and animal health, waterways, the ocean, and our environment.

Take Action to stop plastic pollution.

Join our global Coalition.