Zero Waste

The zero waste movement seeks to reduce the amount of garbage going to landfills, or even to recycling. It attempts to address waste by redesigning the lifecycle of products, so less material is used, so operates at earlier stages in the lifecycle than recycling.

Online videos from the Zero Waste movement were initally from affluent people, and could seem odd. People were getting rid of plastic containers and getting mason jars (which begged the question about what happened to the plastic). Buying bulk became a thing.

However, even the shortest perusal of Zero Waste resources showed that there are communities in the Los Angeles Eastside and South Central area that have been practicing “zero waste” out of economic necessity, and labor market discrimination, for decades.

Working class and poor people are, almost categorically, not wasteful. Not only that, but working class people of color, specifically, have always reused and repurposed. Indeed, it would be most accurate to say people of color have been forced into effecting zero waste, going back at least as far as chattel slavery, when slaves were given the scraps of meat.

A brief list of Zero Waste practices by the impoverished and oppressed:

  • Eating the entire animal
  • Using the entire vegetable
  • Quilting
  • Scavenging trash
  • Leaving goods out for scavengers
  • Repairing things that break
  • Scavenging parts
  • Buying broken things, to repair them
  • Operating junkyards
  • Dealing in surplus materials
  • Collecting and buying rags
  • Collecting feces for processing into fertilizer
  • Operating thrift stores
  • Composting

All these behaviors are admirable, however, they often involve health risks and hazards. Additionally, some of these are professionalized, or done for profit, and invariably cannot meet the “zero” requirement entirely, due to profit, time, and space constraints.

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Copyright 2023 and John Kawakami