Trash, both from commercial and residential sectors, doesn’t disappear once it’s thrown out. It’s sent to landfills, incinerators, and transfer stations that have been systematically placed in, or near, low-income, Black, Indigenous, People of color (BIPOC) communities. Such is the case in Los Angeles County.
An incinerator is a facility that burns trash. They are commonly referred to as waste-to-energy facilities in an effort by the industry to make them appear environmentally-friendly. However, incinerators emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, toxic pollutants that pollute surrounding communities, and leave behind toxic ash that needs to be landfilled. Two out of the three incinerators that were built in California were constructed in the Southern California region in the Cities of Commerce and Long Beach in the mid to late 1980s.
Residents of these communities have had to bear the brunt of the pollution from burning the waste of neighboring cities, counties, and sometimes other states in addition to the other polluting facilities in their neighborhoods. Specific health impacts from burning trash includes, but is not limited to, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, damages to the reproductive system, and cancer.
Community members of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Valley Improvement Projects, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, and others, organized to defeat legislation (AB 655) that would have allowed trash burning to be classified as a renewable source of energy making waste incineration eligible to the Renewables Portfolio Standard credits thereby subsidizing the industry. Not long after, the Commerce Refuse-to-Energy incinerator permanently shut down in 2018 citing financial reasons.
Community members continue to organize in Long Beach to shut down the incinerator that has been polluting their community for decades and are advocating for zero waste.
Zero waste envisions communities where there are no landfills, no incinerators, no toxic emissions to the land, air, water, and products that are free of toxic chemicals that are harmful to our bodies. The concept of zero waste and sustainability is not unique to BIPOC communities and have in fact been generational practices. Advocating for zero waste also means calling for:
- ending fossil fuel extraction and fossil-fuel based products like plastic
- accountability from manufacturers to redesign their products so that they are durable, reusable, and repairable
- Commitment from agencies and local governments to stop funding false solutions, like waste-to-energy, and invest in community-based solutions