Achieving Environmental Justice Through Manufacturing
Historically, the American environmentalist movement has focused on preserving wilderness, largely ignoring vulnerable populations that suffer in the face of lackluster climate policies that favor industrial production at any cost. In 1982, Black activists organized in Warren County, North Carolina, to protest the dumping of contaminated soil in a majority-black community. While the protest was unsuccessful in stopping the soil dumping, it brought national attention to the environmental burden on communities of color. After the Warren County protests, the U.S. government began aggregating data on the disproportionate presence of hazardous waste in BIPOC districts. This is believed to be the birth of the Environmental Justice movement.
Today, race remains the primary indicator of proximity to toxic materials. The Environmental Justice movement seeks to address the inequities of environmental protection with all people's fair treatment and meaningful involvement.
At Public Thread, we support environmental justice by creatively disrupting systems. We partner with local manufacturers to divert their textile waste from landfills and turn it into bold, upcycled goods. To date, we have diverted more than 125,00 pounds of existing textiles from going into the landfills. We take the textile scraps and transform them into dynamic products like The Medium Duffle (made from upcycled vinyl, upholstery, upycled Chaco® straps, nylon rip-stop); Backpacks (made upcycled from 3D-Mesh, Nylon, Vinyl, Upholstery Textiles, Chaco™ Straps); and Recycle Bags (made from upcycled billboard vinyl).
Grand Rapids Ranks Among the Worst in the State for Environmental Justice
A 2018 Environmental Protection Agency report found that BIPOC are more than twice as likely to live within two miles of polluting facilities. This proximity results in a 54% greater health risk for Black Americans than White Americans.
In 2019, the University of Michigan released a report ranking various areas of the state on an Environmental Justice scale. The ranking took into account population demographics, policies, pollution levels and health outcomes. According to the report, the area in the state that ranks worst in environmental health outcomes for minority populations is on the South West side of Grand Rapids; right where Public Thread's headquarters is located.
The numbers don't stop there; the report listed four other areas of Kent County as among the worst. While not surprising, as Grand Rapids is one of the nation's top manufacturing cities, the data only further underlines the urgent need for widespread creative disruption with compassionate and sustainable practices that lead to successful outcomes for people, the planet, and local economies. Only 15% of textile waste is from consumers, while 85% comes from manufacturing.
We are committed to being part of the solution by utilizing existing materials from local manufacturers, hiring people right in our community, continuing conversations with system stakeholders, and seeking new ways to broaden our impact for/with our community.
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