What is Eco-Ableism? Can Zero Waste be for Everyone?

I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a long time and that is eco-ableism. Let’s dive into the world of why people actually still need and rely on plastic to live and why all plastic isn’t that bad.

I was inspired to talk about this by an activist who talks about plastic straws in a good way. Most influencers think plastic straws are the worst. Yes, they might end up in the ocean, but some people rely on them to literally stay alive. Let’s talk more about it.

First, what is eco-ableism?

Ableism is a type of discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. Think stairs and even written posts like this. The world is built to accommodate those of us with able bodies, but why? Shouldn’t we accommodate those who can’t walk or read or hear? Yes, yes we should and we can start this accommodation in the zero waste movement.

Eco-ableism is similar in that the zero waste world is built for able-bodied people. Things like eliminating straws and pre-packaged foods are things us able-bodied people are just waste but disabled people rely on to survive.

Not all plastic is bad, only single-use, but even then, it’s not all bad

Yes, single-use anything is bad...when you don’t need it! I still rely on single-use packaging because there are not many plastic-free options in Japan. I’m sure we can all think of at least one single-use item we can’t go without.

So, yes, we do need to reduce what we can, but we shouldn’t fight for elimination. Let’s let supply and demand take care of it. If able-bodied people simply refused straws instead of tried to ban them, people who depend on plastic straws could still use them, but companies wouldn’t be producing as much.

People rely on plastic

Why? Aren’t there other options? Sure, but plastic is simply the best in some cases. A plastic straw is best because it bends and won’t injure people. Metal straws have the potential to be too hot or too cold. Glass straws too plus they can shatter. Bamboo straws can shatter. Paper straws get way too soggy. Plastic is durable and flexible and a perfect fit for those who rely on them.

That pre-cut fruit that comes in tubs might be silly to able-bodied people. But, let’s look through the lens of someone who relies on that food. Someone who has tremors or is paralyzed sure can’t cut a watermelon. So, they rely on precut fruit and veggies to survive.

Climate Change & Disabilities

I’m going to link to this great article by Elizabeth Wright about her journey with sustainable living and disability. In short, though, we need to talk more about how affected disabled people are by climate-related events. Disabled people are among some of the most vulnerable people during fires, hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, and so forth. Some disabilities are hard to care for during power outages which seems to be becoming more and more common during these events.

This is only going to get worse as we see more and more events like this. It is estimated that 37.5% of the world lives with a disability. We need to give disabled people a voice when it comes to making new eco-solutions.

Making zero waste intersectional

We need to fight for the planet and its people. It’s silly to try to ban straws when first, people rely on them, and second, there are bigger fish to fry. We need to understand that plastic is a necessity, even if it is single-use, to a lot of people. We need to understand that we can’t have climate justice without racial justice.

Again, it’s great to reduce what we can but we shouldn’t be trying to ban life-sustaining objects for some people like plastic straws. Instead, we should ban together to pressure companies to make bigger actions like reducing fossil fuels, paying their employees fairly, using sustainable materials, and so forth.

We can’t leave these people behind by banning straws and banning cars and so forth. We need to accommodate people with disabilities so that they can still sustain their lives but we can also sustain the planet. We must all work together, not just able-bodied people, not just white people, not just old men in congress, all of us. We need to make changes that work for everyone but also will save the planet.

Our small changes do have a big impact. It’s my choice to refuse a straw, but some simply can’t. Let’s focus on the bigger factors leading to climate decay and, yes, still focus on these small areas when we can, but let’s do so by keeping others in mind.

Thank you so much for reading along, I appreciate your time. Until next time, remember that your small changes have a big impact in the long run :)


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Hey there! Thanks for stopping by! 

My name is Emma. I am a 20-year-old new to this sustainable lifestyle. I am here to give you my tips as I learn them and help beginners begin their sustainable life...


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