Who’s In The Way

Obstacle 1:

Petrochemical Industry

The petrochemical industry is dominated by a handful of giant corporations. As early as the 1950s, chemical corporations like Dow and petroleum producers like ExxonMobil held discussions about the negative impacts of plastic pollution, however, these same corporations have strongly resisted efforts to limit plastic output and the damage it causes.

Often the petrochemical industry pushes for the narrative that plastic litter is a problem of the consumer, diverting from their responsibility as producers of plastic.

Top plastic producers:

Organizations leading the fight against Plastic: 

Break Free From Plastics Movement

BFFP aims to bring systemic change through a holistic approach tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain, focusing on prevention rather than cure, and providing effective solutions. BFFP holds consumer-goods companies and plastic producers accountable for the waste they generate

In 2019, “brand audits” conducted by Break Free From Plastic collected a total of 476,423 pieces of plastic waste from locations around the world

Source: Plastic Atlas: Facts and figures about the world of synthetic polymers

Source: Plastic Atlas: Facts and figures about the world of synthetic polymers

Basel Action Network (BAN): Plastic Pollution Prevention

Basel Action Network is now engaged in policy challenges, market campaigns and trade investigations on Plastic Waste. Here you can follow a quick snapshot of their work.

More Resources: 

Obstacle 2:

Waste-to-Energy Incinerator Industry 

When dumping waste in a landfill becomes impractical or politically unpopular, societies have typically burned that waste in machines called incinerators, most of which are usually located in communities that are culturally, economically, and politically marginalized. The location of incinerators in the United States is a clear issue of environmental inequality and environmental racism.

During the incinerator boom of the 1980s and 1990s in the US, the Environmental Justice movement and the Antitoxics movement rose up in resistance to meet the threat of this industry to local communities. They challenged and shut down multiple incinerator projects and proposals nationwide, however, this success gave industry an incentive to export waste beyond the United States and set up incineration facilities in the Global South and Eastern Europe.

Waste incineration has proven to yield poor economic results for local communities, have hazardous working conditions, and they generally emit the following toxins: persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins, furans, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); heavy metals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

Organizations leading the fight against Waste-to-energy incinerators:

Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC)

ICC’s mission is to engage and empower individuals, families, and groups in realizing their aspirations and, together, work to create a just, vibrant and sustainable community. ICC upholds and builds upon the principles of “Justice and Equality for All.” We strive to practice and build equity, work towards a Just Transition, and organize community on the basis of the Jemez Principles.
  • ICC’s Environmental Justice Program works with the community and partners across the city, state, and country to advance the cause of Environmental Justice 
  • The Sacrifice Zone is a documentary film, by Talking Eyes Media, features ICC’s fight against environmental injustice and environmental racism in the Ironbound.

The Sacrifice Zone Trailer from Talking Eyes Media on Vimeo.

People for Community Recovery

PCR's mission is to enhance the quality of life of residents living in communities affected by pollution. PCR educates and advocates policy and programs in an effort to coordinate local residents on issues of the environment, health, housing, neighborhood safety, and economic equity.

GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives)

GAIA envisions a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. GAIA’s efforts focus on three initiatives: promoting zero waste, reducing problematic waste streams like plastic, and putting an end to the ineffective and hazardous practice of burning waste.
GAIA supports community-led organizing because they believe only work that is grounded in the needs and realities of impacted communities will be successful about real and lasting change.

Incinerators in Decline

Interactive map of Municipal Solid Waste by Tishman Environment and Design Center and GAIA. This is an interactive map of municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerators in the United States that depicts the location of each incinerator, along with:
  • Demographic data (% minority, % poverty) for the surrounding community within a three-mile radius)
  • Environmental justice community designation (per the demographic data)
  • Stack emissions data for several air pollutants, specifically: PM2.5, NOx, lead and mercury
  • Daily tonnage
  • Year constructed
  • Operator

The map shows that the majority (79%) of the MSW incinerators currently in the U.S. are located in environmental justice communities. These communities have rates of poverty and people of color that are above the national average

More Resources:

Books, Articles, and Reports: