Discard Studies Blog is four years old! To celebrate our birthday, here are our ten most popular posts of all time:
# 10: The Plastisphere and other 21st century waste ecosystems by Max Liboiron
1,844 individual views since 07/22/2013
Microcosms on floating plastics, chemicals in all human bodies, wildlife thriving in “the most toxic mile in America.” In the 21st century, ecosystems premised on waste, toxicity, and pollution proliferate. They trouble divisions of in and out of place, purity and pollution, clean up and conservation. This post gives examples of “waste ecosystems” to open up concepts thought to undergird studies of waste and pollution, and explains how these ecosystems challenge the popular idea that we can just “clean up” modern waste.
#9: Detritus from Historic Deadhorse Bay: Trash Meant to be Left Behind by Max Liboiron
1,851 individual views since 07/11/2013
Deadhorse Bay, formerly Barren Island, New York City’s first dump, is now a national park. The park inters nearly a century’s worth of the city’s waste, as well as the homes of former inhabitants. Despite its historic and protected character, however, the site is heavily scavenged. Many New Yorkers and tourists call it “Bottle Bay” and make the difficult trek there just to take glass bottles and other items. We want to remind people that taking items from Deadhorse Bay, aka Barren Island, aka Bottle Beach, is not only against the law, but also detrimental to future cultural and historical research.
Since its inception as a dump in the mid nineteenth century, Barren Island has been a contested area, first by local landowners on the mainland who complained of the stench of boiling horses, fish, and fetid trash; then by government and business bodies who tried to gain the upper hand in post-waste resource allocation during the world wars; next by urban planners and residents of the island; and now by scavengers and those who wish to preserve the site.
In the interest of capturing the fraught historical spirit of Deadhorse Bay, and particularly the mixed status of the waste as simultaneously “thrown away,” “violently dispossessed,” and “in need of preservation,” I took a series of detritus portraits. These photographs are taken in line with the National Parks adopted motto “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.”
#8: Sebastian Abrahamsson and Katja de Vriesby
2,018 individual views since 03/27/2012
This post looks at how the boundaries at stake in recuperating and eating wasted food are not only a matter of cultural perceptions, but can also be made legal. They look at a case from March 2010 when Steven De Geynst was arrested for theft after having taken two bags of muffins from a dumpster outside a supermarket. The Muffinman case stirred discussion in the Belgian media. In the first place because stealing garbage sounds like a contradiction in terms: how can one steal that which has been abandoned? Secondly, and more importantly, the fact that it concerned food waste and some argued that since food waste, unlike other kinds of waste, is ingested and eaten the case signaled a more disturbing and dangerous issue than when non-food waste is appropriated.
In New York City and in other occupations, taxonomies of trash were used as a conscious effort to restrict access to space and to define and discipline protesters. Over and over, in different evictions, city governments and police demonstrated their belief that political gatherings such as Occupy are dangerous in their filth, regardless of material sanitary conditions. As Mary Douglas so eloquently puts it, “As we know it, dirt is essentially disorder” (1966: 2). And in the eyes of those in power, the essential nature of Occupy is disorder. It is dirt.
At the same time, carious infrastructures for sanitation were, and continue to be, part of a system of citizenship within the Occupy movement. Signs in Zucotti Park announced: “We are all part of the sanitation effort,” “We at Sanitation uphold the Good Neighbor Policy, which is a great guideline of our values and respect for each other in this community,” and “Thank your sanitation workers! It starts from the ground floor.” According to anthropologist Mary Douglas, “dirt” is all about maintaining good citizenship, where beliefs and practices about filth and contagion uphold social values and what counts as acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The way Occupiers treat dirt and trash is symbolically similar to the City’s efforts to alienate them: in both situations, dirt is about maintaining a set of ordered relations, and rejecting inappropriate elements. For Occupiers, these ordered relations involved respect, sobriety, and cooperation. One of the three community rules at Liberty Plaza, drafted through a consensus process, was “Keep it clean. This plaza and these flowers are important to the community. Our ability to uphold the beauty of this park well represents our commitment to a better world.”
This is more of a photo archive than an essay, documenting these two opposing uses of waste in the Occupy movement.
#6:by Max Liboiron
2,241 individual views since 07/09/2014
Industry developed disposability through planned obsolescence, single-use items, cheap materials, throw-away packaging, fashion, and conspicuous consumption. American industry designed a shift in values that circulated goods through, rather than into, the consumer realm. The truism that humans are inherently wasteful came into being at a particular time and place, by design. This post, quickly becoming one of the top posts on the blog despite its relatively recent creation, outlines the logic and history behind the throwaway society.
A version of this post originally appeared as “Modern Waste as Strategy,” Lo Squaderno: Explorations in Space and Society. Special edition on Garbage & Wastes. No 29, 2013. (open access)
2,473 views since 03/26/2012
The understanding that countries like Singapore are a source of secondhand electronics would go against the dominant story line presented in the mainstream media and NGO reports from organizations such as Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network (BAN), which use images like the one below which portray the ‘e-waste crisis’ – ‘Third World’ women and children informally processing the Western world’s ‘e-waste’ without any protection for themselves or for the environment around them. My point here is not to deny that this happens, because it surely does, and it is not an ideal way of handling secondhand electronics. But rather, I would like to tell an alternative side of the story that isn’t as commonly heard, but is just as prevalent.
Trade within developing regions is increasing in prevalence due to the falling price of electronics and increasing affluence in those countries. This finding thus makes the Basel Convention largely irrelevant, as it only bans trade from developed to developing regions. Yet, it is clear that Singapore generates at least as much, if not more electronic waste per capita than European and North American countries. Therefore, national e-waste legislation, as well as international policy aiming to reduce the international flow of secondhand electronics, such as the Basel Convention as well, needs to take seriously the role that countries like Singapore play as significant sources of such devices.
#4: San Francisco’s Famous 80% Waste Diversion Rate: Anatomy of an Exemplar by Samantha MacBride
2,552 individual views since 12/06/2013
Despite San Francisco’s 80% diversion rate, the average person sends about 2.7 pounds per day to landfills. On a per person basis, it would seem that record-setting San Franciscans send roughly the same quantities to the dump as their friends in other places in the US.
San Francisco’s 80% diversion rate is, in fact, a unique reflection of what the San Francisco Department of Environment counts, and how it calculates and publicizes what it counts. I present details below, but the bottom line is this. San Francisco’s diversion rate is so high because the city includes large quantities of very heavy construction materials (such as excavated fill and rubble, which are reused as infill and road base ) and biosolids (applied to agricultural land) as “diversion”. These materials, along with smaller (though very respectable) quantities of paper, metal, glass, and plastic recycling; and organics composting, total, on a per capita basis, nearly 12 pounds of stuff per person per day!
Other cities and countries don’t compile their municipal solid waste (MSW) diversion statistics this way.
#3: The Art of Mould by Max Liboiron
3,099 individual views since 01/02/2012
This is a short post, a list really, of some artists who use mould as their primary medium.
3,453 individual views since 10/21/2013
In less than a year, a simple list of sources has become the second most popular post on Discard Studies.
If waste is, broadly defined, the externalities of social and technical systems, then noise is a quintessential form of waste. Noise pollution is disturbing or excessive sound that may harm humans or animals, and, not surprisingly, it usually emits from industrial technologies. Perhaps because it exceeds the material fetish of most pollution laws, it wasn’t until the 1970s (1975 in Portland, to be exact) that U.S. governments promoted noise from a “nuisance” to f a full fledged environmental problem like its material cousins in the pollution panoply. Yet, noise remains a generally neglected source for the theorization of waste, pollution, and harm. If you are interested in remedying the situation, here is a bibliography for you.
#1: Visual Culture of Food Waste Data: Theaters of Proof by Max Liboiron
4,839 individual views since 01/22/2012
The top post on Discard Studies was created in 2012 and it is about data visualization of food waste. A lot of discard issues are about scale. Scale is expressed in functions of measurement or computation, yet scale is more than a quantitative sum. Scale is always relative (“bigger,” “smaller,” “less than,” “twice as much,” “a quarter of”), and therefore relational.
So scale is not merely about being big or small. At different scales, different relationships matter. Scale is a way of organizing which processes are dominant and meaningful within certain sites. When it comes to food waste data, the best infographic designers not only endeavor to show you “how much” food is wasted, but why these amounts matter, what relationships and contexts can produce the scales of waste they chart, and what the social, cultural, and environmental connotations of waste at a certain scale might be.
In short, their quantitative work does qualitative work. Their display of data also engenders disgust, rage, empathy, embarrassment, or a desire for justice. Bruno Latour calls this sort of display a “theater of proof,” where viewers can see the phenomenon under study in “black and white.” We understand, all at once, the entire phenomenon. The data in theaters of proof is “indisputable” because it is obvious and right before our eyes. Scale is one method with which to conduct a theater of proof. The infographics within aim to show all the underlying ramifications of scale.