There is privilege in refusing

Privilege in refusal

Who gets to refuse plastic? We’re talking Zero Waste and privilege today.

In Zero Waste, the first “R” (the most important step) is REFUSAL. Say no to the plastic junk that’s polluting our planet—the store’s branded plastic shopping bag and BPA-coated receipt! But wait. There’s a huge disconnect in our society in who has the ability to refuse.

@ajabarber recently wrote about BIPOC shoppers being targeted by stores as apparent criminals. It happens in all sorts of ways, including security tags on makeup for darker skin tones but none on makeup for lighter skin tones (as mentioned by @esteelaundry) and Black hair products behind lock and key, as well as racial profiling of suspected shoplifters. I didn’t know that BIPOC shoppers often took bags and receipts as proof of purchase to ensure that won’t have any trouble from store security.

But I did know this: I refuse a bag when I shop, and typically receipts too. I don’t get asked to leave my bag/backpack at the counter. I don’t get followed in stores. I leave stores with my purchased products in my own bag, with no receipt, and no proof of purchase, and I don’t get questioned. I have NEVER been stopped.

Is this just a coincidence that has been following me around my entire life? No, it’s white privilege.

[Another thing about receipts: these are typically coated in BPA/BPS, which are pretty awful. We don’t know how much harm may or may not come from a person carrying a receipt for a few minutes. But we do know that BPA and its alternatives are toxic environmental pollutants. We also need to examine who handles receipts the most: cashiers, who are typically women–and not wealthy women. Again, it’s an issue of privilege.]

So when we tell everyone to simply refuse a bag and a receipt, it’s not that easy. We need to work to change the systems in play:

  • contact companies
  • contact governments
  • support BIPOC content creators, business owners, and organizations
  • do your own anti-racism work
  • spread the word


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