You may have noticed more talk lately about privileges. Discussions about privilege can be confusing, difficult to wrap your head around and uncomfortable. One of my favourite ways to explain privilege is by talking about barriers.

Sometimes barriers are physical and easy to see. A store with stairs and no ramp access is a barrier to people who aren’t able to climb stairs because of a physical disability. Therefore, being able-bodied and having the ability to climb stairs is a privilege that makes shopping at that store easier.

Other times barriers aren’t physical and aren’t always easy to spot. A person with an ethnic-sounding name has a lower chance of securing an interview when applying for a job. A study conducted by Philip Oreopoulos through Metropolis British Columbia found that “Interview request rates for English-named applicants with Canadian education and experience were more than three times higher compared to résumés with Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani names” [1] In this example, having a non-English name is the barrier and an English name is the privilege.

Helen Vangool, an educator with a social justice lens, presented at one of our staff Professional Development days. She shared with us Sylvia Duckworth's illustration of the power/privilege wheel, which lists many different areas where you can hold privilege including gender, sexuality, wealth and mental health.

Wheel of Power/Privilege: an image listing different privileges and the spectrum of each.

What does this have to do with waste reduction? There are many privileges that make living a low waste lifestyle easier. Here are some examples:

  • Financial privilege to buy in bulk or purchase costly reusable items
  • Privilege of having access to a vehicle for many aspects of low waste living
  • Privilege of not having any food allergies and being able to shop at bulk food stores.
  • Physical ability to do the work required to tend to a garden

In December 2021, we started a conversation about this on social media; here are a few of the ideas you had:

  • Privilege to have space to grow your own food
  • Having the affluence to buy upcycled jewellery
  • Paying the annual fee for a green bin to divert organics
  • Having access to a subscription for city-wide curbside compost program
  • Having a big enough house to sort and organise clothes, recycling, etc that will be taken to be reused or recycled.
  • Privilege of access to technology/internet to research a low waste lifestyle.

I’d love for you to take a moment to think of all the privileges you have when making your life more sustainable and consider the barriers you have as well. Remember that everyone’s relationship to waste reduction is different. Do what you can and don’t judge yourself for what you aren’t able to do.