The following ten articles and one book are recent publications from diverse disciplines, but they all relate to the study of waste, pollution, and externalities.
The fear that human consumption is causing climate change, biodiversity loss, and mineral scarcity has recently prompted interest in reuse because of the intuitive belief that it reduces new production and waste. The environmental impacts of reuse have, however, received little attention—the benefits typically assumed rather than understood—and consequently the overall effects remain unclear. In this article, we structure the current work on the topic, reviewing the potential benefits and pitfalls described in the literature and providing a framework for future research. Many products’ use-phase energy requirements are decreasing. The relative importance of the embodied impacts from initial production is therefore growing and the prominence of reuse as an abatement strategy is likely to increase in the future. Many examples are found in the literature of beneficial reuse of standardized, unpowered products and components, and repairing an item is always found to be less energy intensive than new production. However, reusing a product does not guarantee an environmental benefit. Attention must be paid to restoring and upgrading old product efficiencies, minimizing overspecification in the new application, and considering whether more efficient, new products exist that would be more suitable. Cheap, reused goods can allow many consumers access to products they would otherwise have been unable to afford. Though socially valuable, these sales, which may help minimize landfill in the short term, can represent additional consumption rather than a net environmental benefit compared to the status quo.
This essay will look to bring the worlds of plastic and queer theory together under the conditions of non-reproduction and extinction, a world where our progeny may not even be human much less our biological offspring. Here, I am following Nicole Seymour’s assertion that “queer values—caring not (just) about the individual, the family, or one’s descendants, but about the Other species and persons to whom one has no immediate relations—may be the most effective ecological values” (2013, 27). This fissuring of reproductive logic from biology could be one of the most important lessons in a world that is increasingly toxic. For, as Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson write in Queer Ecologies, “queer attachments work both to celebrate the excess of life and to politicize the sites at which this excess is eradicated” (2010, 37). To develop these ideas, I build upon and am indebted to feminist science studies scholars such as Nancy Tuana, Donna Haraway, and Mel Chen, among many others, who assert the inherently intertwined viscous porosity of our bodies, our multiple compositions, and the necessarily imbricated and implicated nature of that position.
Recent scholarship on the materiality of cities has been criticized by critical urban scholars for being overly descriptive and failing to account for political economy. We argue that through the conceptualization of urban metabolisms advanced by ecological economists and industrial ecologists, materialist and critical perspectives can be mutually enriching. We focus on conflict that has erupted in Delhi, India. Authorities have embraced waste-to-energy incinerators, and wastepickers fear that these changes threaten their access to waste, while middle class residents oppose them because of their deleterious impact on ambient air quality. We narrate the emergence of an unlikely alliance between these groups, whose politics opposes the production of a waste-based commodity frontier within the city. We conclude that the materiality and political economy of cities are co-constituted, and contestations over the (re)configuration of urban metabolisms span these spheres as people struggle to realize situated urban political ecologies.
In this article, based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in a Japanese rural town, the author examines exchanges that occur upon death by focusing on the flow of material objects in relation to pollution and vitality. Specifically, he attempts to elucidate the ways in which pollution and vitality are manifested and exchanged through the transaction of material objects between the bereaved, the non-bereaved and the dead. Throughout the article, the author seeks a fuller understanding of why the mortuary exchange must be understood in terms of pollution and vitality and their relationship with material objects. He suggests that the mortuary exchange has the most important function of distributing pollution and vitality so that the living and the dead supplement their own vitality and diminish death pollution. By doing this, the defiled states of both the living and the dead are ultimately transformed into states of purity.
This paper brings the temporalities of the global e-waste recycling trade into the temporal reckonings of speed, acceleration, and simultaneity typically associated with information and communications technologies (ICTs). Following feminist philosopher Sofia, it begins with a reconsideration of theories of technology as they relate to time and the environment. The second part of the paper suggests that recycling practices do not address the tempos of production, especially planned obsolescence. Bringing together Nixon’s concept of slow violence with Sofia’s theory of container technologies, this paper interrogates the speed, acceleration, and simultaneity often attributed to ICTs and globalization to argue that planned obsolescence functions as a type of slow violence, and that it structures the environmental politics of the information age.
Liboiron, M. (2015). Redefining pollution and action: The matter of plastics. Journal of Material Culture
Using plastic pollution as a case study, this article shows how the material characteristics of objects – their density, their size, and the strength of their molecular bonds, among other traits – are central to their agency. The author argues that it is crucial to attend to the physical characteristics of matter if we, as researchers, are going to describe problems and contribute to solutions for ‘bad actors’ like pollutants. Plastics and their chemicals are challenging regulatory models of pollution, research methods, and modes of action because of their ubiquity, longevity, and scale of production. This article investigates how scientists researching plastic pollution are attempting to create a new model – or models – of pollution that account for the unpredictable and complex materialities of 21st-century pollutants, and how the Anthropocene has come to be a shorthand for our material understandings of moral transgressions, cherished boundaries, and good citizenship.
In this paper, I explore the decommodification that takes place in US food banks. I argue that food banks are neither Polanyian countermovements re-embedding the market in society nor tiny platoons of neoliberalism that advance market relations and state withdrawal. Rather, food banks are best understood as re-gifting depots that are part of the capital accumulation process. Recent scholarship on primitive accumulation, the disarticulations approach, and waste suggests that the devaluation of food products and the exclusion of human labor are everyday elements of capitalism. I conclude by examining the potential for progressive politics in US food banking.
Comparison of hazardous waste characterization criteria in the US, Taiwan, and China. ^indicates a contaminant belonging to one of the top three most stringent limit values for at least one country. From Lui et al. (2015).
Liu, A., Ren, F., Lin, W. Y., & Wang, J. Y. (2015). A review of municipal solid waste environmental standards with a focus on incinerator residues
. International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment
Environmental issues are often neglected until a lapse in the care for environment, which leads to serious human health problem, would then put regulation gaps in the spotlight. Environmental regulations and standards are important as they maintain balance among competing resources and help protect human health and the environment. One important environmental standard is related to municipal solid waste (MSW). Proper MSW management is crucial for urban public health. Meanwhile, the sustainability of landfills is also of concern as increasing volumes of MSW consume finite landfilling space. The incineration of MSW and the reuse of incinerated residues help alleviate the burden on landfilling space. However, the reuse of MSW incinerator residues must be regulated because they may expose the environment to toxic heavy metal elements. The study of environmental standards from different countries applicable to MSW is not widely published, much less those for incinerated MSW residue reuse. This paper compares extant waste classification and reuse standards pertinent to MSW, and explores the unique recent history and policy evolution in some countries exhibiting high environmental regard and rapid changes, policy makers can propose new or revise current MSW standards in other countries.
I want to write about Sacred Waste, the substance, the show, the script, the workshop, the community project, the installation, the pedagogical experiment, the scrambling around the streets after a football game picking up plastic bottle tops and making them into rattling ankle bracelets, but there isn’t room for all of it. How can I leave out the way the HopKins Black Box green room looked piled floor to ceiling with milk jugs, Styrofoam coffee cup lids, and plastic grocery bags? The way theatre manager John Lebret, holding a straw he found under the risers told me, “You better get every last piece of this crap cleaned up after the run” in the most serious timbre I’ve ever heard him muster. How can I leave out the moment when a busload of high school students came to the dress rehearsal and told us the show was great, but that we stank? That we needed to wear more deodorant or something because it was “totally RANK up in there.” I want to write about my gratitude for that, how no one else had had the gall to say it. I want it all to stick around, like the plastic does, for thousands of years, little pieces fluttering on the wind, on the waters, forever.
Morrison, S. S. (2015). The Literature of Waste: Material Ecopoetics and Ethical Matter.
Tracing material and metaphoric waste through the Western canon, ranging from Beowulf
to Samuel Beckett, Susan Morrison disrupts traditional perceptions of waste to better understand how we theorize, manage, and are implicated in what is discarded and seen as garbage. Engaging a wide range of disciplines, Morrison addresses how the materiality of waste has been sedimented into a variety of toxic metaphors. The vibrancy of matter itself disturbs these metaphors, especially those used to characterize people as disposable garbage. If scholars can read waste as possessing dynamic agency, how might that change the ethics of refuse-ing and ostracizing wasted humans? A major contribution to the growing field of Waste Studies, this comparative and theoretically innovative book confronts the reader with the ethical urgency present in waste literature itself.
and Wildermith, S. (2016). From rags to splendor: the evolution of Cinderella cover illustrations from 1800 to 2014, Visual Communication 15: 54–70.
This analysis of the cover images of a collection of 300 Cinderella picture books published between 1800 and 2014 reveals marked trends in the manner in which Cinderella has been portrayed on those covers, and a corresponding switch in the dominant message visually communicated to children by these books. Early books depicted Cinderella most often in her downtrodden state, dressed in rags, but most modern-day picture-book covers show Cinderella as an elaborately dressed beauty, reveling in her magical transformation into a visual spectacle, in the pinks and purples of contemporary ‘princess’ marketing. Thus, through Cinderella’s visual depiction in these children’s books, the meaning of ‘Cinderella’ has shifted from a model of virtuous humility for young women to emulate to a dazzling display for little girls to consume and imitate.