Recycling for Environmental and Social Justice

Dozer on garbage pile at landfill

When you hear the word “recycling,” you may think of paper, bottles and other items you place in a separate bin. Recycling is something we do to reduce waste and lessen our impact on the environment.

Recycling is one of the most recognizable acts of environmentalism, but it supports more than just a healthy planet. Similar to an ecosystem, where everything is interrelated, recycling connects back to people. That means when you recycle correctly you’re contributing not only to environmental sustainability, but also to social justice.

Everything we throw away has to go somewhere. If an item goes in the trash, it will end up burned or in a landfill, buried underground. When items are buried in a landfill, they are unable to decompose properly, and produce gases that not only contribute to climate change, but also can cause respiratory illnesses and cancer. Older landfills can leak and contaminate soil and groundwater, also significantly impacting human health.

All things being equal, you likely would not choose to live next to a landfill, but not all of us are able to avoid it. And unfortunately, people of color are most likely to bear the brunt of the environmental and health impacts that come along with landfills and incinerators.

It turns out that race is the single greatest predictor of whether you live near a toxic site. People of color are more likely to be live near environmental hazards leading to adverse health effects and a reduced quality of life.

That’s where environmental and social justice come in — the philosophy that everybody should have equal access to clean water and air, and a healthy place to live, work and play. When we reduce the trash we produce, we decrease the need for more landfills and incineration. Fewer toxic sites means fewer people impacted by those sites.

In reducing our waste and recycling correctly, we have an effect on not only our planet, but also its inhabitants. Recycling is more than an environmental act, it’s also an act of social justice.