The Plastic Plague with Adventures in Waste

Meet Jessica Aldridge, the founder of the non-profit Adventures in Waste. Jessica is a veteran in the waste industry and founded her NGO Adventures in Waste as a way to connect experts in the waste space to the public.

Vanessa Black

October 7, 2020

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Kat Hoelck

he plastics crisis is overwhelming and addressing it during COVID can feel trivial given the pure volume of plastic flowing through our lives.  Future Prosperity was born during the COVID pandemic as a way to begin to understand plastics, and larger related environmental issues through a cultural lens. While we always want to be solution oriented, solutions are not always a binary “this or that” answer.  Given the complexity of the issue, and its connection to other issues such as poverty and food security, we believe it is important to unpack the problems together so that we can begin to work toward solutions from a collective knowing.

This is exactly why I am so pleased to introduce you to Jessica Aldridge, the founder of the non-profit Adventures in Waste.  Jessica is a veteran in the waste industry and founded her NGO Adventures in Waste as a way to connect experts in the waste space to the public.  Her education as entertainment style bridges the gap between experts and newcomers to explain waste related issues and raise awareness for  social and environmentally responsible, Zero Waste, solution-oriented conversations.  She is not afraid to crack a joke and is passionate about building her own media platform to pass the mic at every opportunity.  While this interview is about her, her work is about community sovereignty. Future Prosperity is thrilled to partner with Jessica and Adventures in Waste to rerelease her special report podcast about the plastic crisis produced by EcoJusticeRadio: “The Plastic Plague Series: Connecting the Dots Between Extraction, Inequity, & Pollution.”  

Over the next seven weeks, we will release the Plastic Plague here on

Every week you’ll receive a link to the podcast with a special letter from Jessica setting up the episode.  Every other Thursday, we will be joined by Jessica on Future Prosperity’s Instagram for a #FPTrashTalk IGLIVE, answering all your questions about recycling and waste.  Her podcast is a project of SoCal 350 Climate Action, the show presents environmental and climate stories from a social justice frame, featuring voices not necessarily heard on traditional, mainstream, or even public media outlets. 

Jessica and I met serendipitously when I contacted the recycling facility where she has been a Sustainability & Zero Waste Programs Director for 8 years to set up a photoshoot. She is an absolute light and brilliant. Her passion for storytelling and solving systemic issues around waste are infectious.  Our work intentions clicked into alignment and we became fast friends, sharing questions and concerns for sharing waste related stories to the public.  As we jumped off the phone, she recommended I check out a podcast she recently produced about the exact issues we are working through at Future Prosperity.  Her Plastic Plague series quickly became the FPXII’s team homework for July. We are honored t share this work with you. I sat down with Jessica after photographing her at her Silverlake home to learn more about Jessica’s work, the podcast and her nonprofit, Adventures in Waste!

Vanessa Black {VB}: Jessica, I am grateful to you for believing in this platform and coming on as our first education partner.  Entertainment as education is something we are passionate about and I’ve already learned so much from you this summer. 

JA: I think art and entertainment are  necessary to communicate the kind of messaging that stimulates change.  Even though my show can be hard hitting, coming from entertainment background, I was taught that the purpose of art is to educate, entertain and enlighten.  I hold that true or anything I do. That is my mission.

Why did you start adventures in waste?

I am surrounded by amazing people in the waste industry who are constant educators.  There is a missing link between the industry professional level of information and the general public.  We want to bridge this gap. I started AIW to stop wasting paper napkins at restaurants. No joke (well sorta)! Adventures in Waste is a community engagement organization and online resource hub (coming soon) that bridges the experience and knowledge between waste professionals and everyday people to increase awareness, inspire action, and create a level playing field from which a social and environmentally responsible, Zero Waste, solution-oriented world can be built. Adventures in Waste is dedicated to all things waste (and the reduction thereof) as it pertains to social, environmental, and cultural impacts and solutions. People are increasingly excited about waste and recycling, but they are confused on where to get resources or accurate information. And let me tell you, there is some crazy inaccurate, but well-meaning info floating about.  Anytime a waste professional is at a party and people discover you work in the space, people ask, “Why don’t people know this and where can I get more information?” I, like many other waste nerd industry folk, would ask for a pen and start writing down on a napkin a list of websites that fit their interest.  I realized, why can’t I just give them one website ad we will branch you off to all the avenues you want to find. This is what we are building with Adventures in Waste.

VB: That is really exciting, how does Adventure in Waste connect to ecoJustice Radio? 

JA: One of the things I wanted to do with AIW was to create a podcast to answer peoples questions and host complex conversations. I am the cofounder of So-Cal 350 and we created EcoJustice Radio to present environmental and climate stories from a social justice frame, featuring voices not necessarily heard on traditional, mainstream, or even public media outlets. We also want to host complex conversations and connect the public to information more quickly. For example, how to compost with bioplastics in an industrial facility.  We've been talking about it for 8 years, and only now is it getting out.  Why does it take so long for the information to get to the public or NGO’s?  We can’t move forward if we all aren't at the same level of playing field.  We need an outlet to get that information out there more readily. Not everything we do is specific to waste, but it’s a lens within the sustainability conversation.

VB: What is the mission or purpose of EcoJusticeRadio?

JA: The purpose of EcoJustice Radio is to amplify community voices, broaden the reach of grassroots-based movements, and inspire action. We aim to educate about solutions to social and environmental justice and climate issues that challenge human health and wild landscapes across the US, and around the world. We envision equitable, resilient, and sustainable communities; regenerated landscapes; and a 100% clean energy future. 

VB: The word access is used a lot in social or environmental justice work, and a piece of this also related to media access. Can you explain this barrier briefly and how you are addressing this? 

Media is limited. We want to hear from the full spectrum.  There are a lot of access issues: what is popular, who gets the clicks, and how do we analyze our own place in the space? I think it is important in our media that we put a face to the community and let the community speak for themselves. People who are doing the work aren't there to build a media career. They need to find the time to show up to council meetings and push campaigns forward. They use their energy, time, value and resources to get to their solutions.  Media should be an outlet for them to amplify their voices.  It shouldn't be another thing for people to worry about to get their message across.  This comes down to diversity and providing equitable access. I have the privilege to make this show and I want to use it. If you have privilege, use it as best as you can, responsibly.

VB: What is the origin Story of Plastic Plague Series? 

JA: The 7-part Plastic Plague series on EcoJustice Radio is a collaboration between SoCal 350 and Adventures in Waste (with support from Story of Stuff Project). This series follows the plastic economy pipeline from extraction and creation to the effects on the community at the time of refinement, manufacturing, consumption, and disposal. Guests from all over the world explore the social and environmental injustices (of the plastic plague) and how we can get to accessible and equitable solutions for all. Communities across the world face a menacing climate emergency, melting glaciers and superstorms, while volatile and toxic drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) nevertheless exponentially increase. In the midst of this chaos, a convenience-born, fossil-fueled plastic plague has infected our rivers, lakes, and oceans. And further, the populations most affected are lower-income communities of color, facing rising seas poisoned with micro plastics, living in the shadow of industrial facilities, breathing poisoned air.

VB: I’ve learned that tackling the plastic crisis quickly unravels our society in a way, addressing most systemic issues.  What are some other topics this series addresses?

We wanted to connect the dots for environmentalists as well between oil and plastic proliferation. Plastics have a disproportionate effect on front line communities, especially those living in the shadow of industrial facilities who are breathing poisoned air. We wanted to connect the issues and point out we can’t just look at the downstream effects of plastic waste. We have to  switch our mentality to look at the system holistically. We wanted to look at communities affected upstream and downstream, and see what related issues matter to these communities. The Zero Waste Movement and Keep It In the Ground have to be moving together simultaneously. They have to happen together.

VB: We live in a hyper aware time and eco-anxiety is a real barrier for action, particularly for people facing their own systemic crises or new people coming into these actions spaces.  What can audiences do with this information?  How can people join in #ZeroWasteAllyship movement?  

JA:  The responsibility is not merely on the individual choice, but must push for policy change and transparent corporate responsibility.  We need to get rid of environmental, systemic, and institutionalized racism so we can all have the same opportunities.  It's a priority to show how these social issues are interconnected to the issues around waste and the proposed solutions. Zero Waste isn't about making zero waste to dispose of, it's looking at the whole entire system and impact that product has on a lifecycle. We are supporting environmental and social justice movements across the board. Without environmental and social justice, you cannot achieve Zero Waste.  You can’t be a racist and be zero waste.  You have to fight the systems that keep access issues down, is it education, poverty, racial issues. What is causing this so we cannot move forward with the larger goal they are trying to achieve. The only way to get to zero waste is actually being an ally.

VB: And what is your intention for their Adventures in Waste and Future Prosperity partnership? What are you most excited about?

JA: First the community bringing this together is one of the most genuine and supportive. I want us to inspire action in a positive way.  I want to make people feel they have a steak in what is happening and show that they have the ability to create change.  I want people to feel more connected to the communities around them by what they are learning. Since the very beginning it's always been so welcoming and the energy is inviting and stimulating. It's been open arms since the very beginning and I feel like I am part of this family. I feel like this is going to be something really good and powerful.

Learn more about Adventure in Waste here.

And you can follow their adventure here.

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