CONVERSATIONS THAT MATTER: ZERO WASTE, CENSORSHIP & INCLUSIVENESS

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I did debate whether to write something about this or not. It’s not the sort of article we normally publish on Urban Granola nor am I that into social media pile ons but this particular incident has brought to light some issues that I think are worthy of addressing. These issues and concepts are incredibly important to the zero waste, environmental and sustainable movements (any social movement, really). And look, I feel like have something to say on it, so I will!

So what incident am I talking about?

Package Free Shop, owned by Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers fame (and who claims to have popularised zero waste living) posted this image on their Instagram account last week:

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The community swiftly, gently and respectfully pointed out that ‘hey, not everyone has the means, social or financial capital to make these changes and this statement is kinda coming from a privileged position’. Instead of taking this feedback on board and engaging in a conversation, Package Free Shop deleted and blocked those who commented. Yikes!

I wholeheartedly defend anyone who wants to moderate their comments section on any platform for abusive, trolling or bot comments (ain’t nobody got time for that shit). However, the comments on PFS’s post were not abusive, disrespectful or inflammatory; that’s not to say that there may have been some of those but vast majority were good, well meaning comments. Many of the commenters who brought attention to the lack of inclusivity of the post come from these very groups that have historically been silenced and forgotten - only to be silenced for pointing this out! Double yikes!

This is pretty poor and disappointing behaviour for a business who claims to be transparent. Many of the accounts blocked were zero waste bloggers who started on their journey because of Lauren Singer (biting the hand that feeds you, anyone?). Due to the deleting and blocking, Package Free Shop quickly lost control of the conversation and it spread across Instagram. Even though I follow PFS, it was brought to my attention by many of the zero waste accounts Urban Granola follows.

Package Free Shop and Lauren Singer have yet to engage meaningfully with their audience, customers and the zero waste community on the issue. While they finally allowed opposing viewpoints on their Instagram page it was met with a strange copy/paste responses, mocking and confusing, vague explanations from PFS. You can’t help but think this goes a little deeper than just run of the mill ignorance or mistake. Lauren Singer is a leader in the zero waste movement, is it too much that we expect better of her?  

But does this just represent a bigger problem with zero waste living and environmentalism?

I think we can all do better to be inclusive. Urban Granola included. I have actually spent much of the week thinking about how I can make my own little corner of the internet more inclusive.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on inclusivity and intersectionality because I’m a white, cis-gendered, straight, pretty bloody privileged and I’m still learning (always will be). The only lived experience of a marginalised group I can speak to is that of being a women. Please always seek out and elevate the voices of those who belong to a minority or marginalised groups -  be it BIPOC, LGBTQI, disability, mental illness or low socioeconomic status.

Environmental activism has often failed to recognise that marginalised groups lack access to the rights, resources and opportunities to enable them to fully participate, contribute and be heard within the movement. A couple of examples:

Pre-prepared packaged fruit and vegetables

A few posts lately have gone viral on the excessive plastic packaging on pre-prepared food like oranges (peeled and in a plastic tub) and cauliflower ‘steaks’ (sliced in plastic packaging). While well-meaning, these posts ignore the needs of people who rely on these pre-prepared items due to limited dexterity, fatigue and chronic pain. Pre-prepared food enables them to access healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables.

EPA Cuts in the USA

Cuts to the Environmental Protection agency in USA are a prime example of environmental racism. Green groups have warned that these cuts will be felt heaviest by communities of colour across the US.

“The environmental justice office is tasked with bridging the yawning disparity in pollution experienced by black, Hispanic and low-income communities and wealthier white neighborhoods. It provides grants to communities to mop up toxins and rehabilitate abandoned industrial facilities that are invariably found in poorer areas.”

Ethical Fashion is Elitist

Ethical fashion is expensive and out of reach for many people yet many of us have preached (Urban Granola included) that we should only buy ethically made clothes. We are advocating for a lifestyle that is realistic for only 1% of the world’s population.

I don’t think Package Free Shop or Lauren Singers intention was to cause controversy or purposely come across as exclusive but they are doing themselves and their community a disservice by failing to acknowledge and take action against the very real barriers of entry to living a zero waste lifestyle or environmentalism or that environmental issues overwhelming affect the disadvantage.

This is a great moment for us to all reflect, learn and strive to do better and be better.

Like I said, I’m no expert so here is some further reading by people far more eloquent and qualified than me to speak on the matter:

Olivia Lapierre spoke about Package Free Shop on her Instagram, you can still access her stories in highlights and read all the comments on her post here. She also wrote a guide on how the zero waste movement can be inclusive for Loam Magazine. Everyone should bookmark this article and refer to it regularly.

I may a teeny bit biased because she is my mate but Jennifer Nini, founder of Eco Warrior Princess, has been working hard to make her website more inclusive, with writers contributing from around the world on a variety of topics.

Francesca Willow from Ethical Unicorn wrote about her views on the Package Free Shop post and intersectionality.

While not specifically a writer on environmentalism, Ruby Hamad does cover topics such as veganism and climate change. Her writing addresses inequality, race, culture, intersectionality, politics and feminism.

Carly Findlay is a writer, speaker and appearance activist. She doesn’t write about sustainability but her writing challenges how people think about disability and she actively campaigns against ableism.

A great blog post on pre-prepared food - When Accessibility Gets Labeled as Wasteful

An informative piece on environmental racism from Wear Your Voice

Instagram accounts to follow: 

@beinggreenwhileblack

@brownenvironmentalist

@maineethics

@reducewhatyouproduce

@jaclynmccosker