American Society for Environmental History
Environmental History and Its Publics Conference
March 30 – April 3, 2016
Seattle, WA
Solid waste management (SWM) is a common thread through all of human existence, irrespective of time and space. Everyone must address the question of refuse: what do we do with unwanted materials? Each society has answered this question in accordance with its own sensibilities, resulting in a wide variety of disposal practices. Understanding this variation is critical, because in any format, the technical practices and processes of SWM introduce ecological, economic, and social challenges. For instance, landfilling is a relatively inexpensive disposal practice (at least in territory-rich parts of the world), but can pollute groundwater (through leachate), impact climate change (through release of methane), and spur social inequalities (through racist or classist siting practices). Conversely, waste-to-energy incineration requires relatively little space (for either facilities or residues) and produces a ‘clean’ flow of electricity (compared to coal) but is hugely expensive and carries the same social concerns as landfills. Similar accounting can be compiled for recycling, composting, and any other SWM collection and disposal technology.  These examples illustrate that geography, ecology, environmental history, and the subjectivities of technology assessment are all closely bound and deeply implicated in any question about SWM.

The papers in this panel will approach and explore SWM histories as enviro-technical systems riddled with political, social, economic, and identity questions. My (Jordan P. Howell) contribution examines the waste history/environmental history of Honolulu, Hawaii, and in particular the environmental and political-economic dimensions of the HPOWER waste-to-energy project as it was proposed, sited, constructed, and operated between 1978 and 1993.If you’re interested in contributing to this panel, please email your abstract and contact info to Jordan P. Howell ( no later than June 31, 2015.