Beyond the ‘end of Cheap Nature’: The production of waste-based commodity frontiers
American Association of Geographers annual meeting (April 5-9 2017, Boston, MA)
Session organizers: Seth Schindler (University of Sheffield, UK) and Federico Demaria (Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain)

This session traces the shift from waste-as-externality to waste-as-resource, and focuses on the production of waste-based commodity frontiers. Jason Moore’s sustained intervention (2015: 2) offers an understanding of capitalism as “a way of organizing nature” whose cyclical expansion is underpinned by the successive transgression of commodity frontiers which facilitates the appropriation of hitherto non-commodified resources. He argues that capital experiences a falling rate of return as resources become commodified, and in order to restore conditions favourable to accumulation new sources of Cheap Nature must be identified and appropriated. This explains why capitalism cannot “sustain itself as a closed system” (Moore 2000: 146) and must constantly expand in order to “extend the domain of appropriation faster than the zone of exploitation” (Moore 2015: 217). Moore argues that capitalism is in terminal crisis because there are simply no more commodity frontiers whose transgression could fuel an expansionary phase of global capitalism. We do not take issue with the broad contours of Moore’s argument, but we argue that it ignores instances in which localized commodity frontiers are produced and exploited. Indeed, in many instances waste has become a resource, driven by the production of waste-based commodity frontiers (Demaria & Schindler 2015). This has been enabled by new regulations (e.g. privatization of waste management) and methods of processing (e.g. waste-to-energy incineration). We welcome papers that focus on the metabolic, political economic, legal and/or bureaucratic mechanisms underpin the production of these localized commodity frontiers. Alternatively, papers could focus on changing socio-technical practices surrounding waste management, the social/ecological impacts of this shift in particular places, and the social as well as ecological resistance it has provoked. We anticipate many papers will focus on municipal solid waste, but we also welcome papers on industrial waste and e-waste.

Topics could include:

  • Emergent legal regimes, institutions and new technologies that enable the appropriation or commodification of waste
  • How this shift is facilitated by global governance frameworks (e.g. the Clean Development Mechanism or other carbon credits schemes)
  • The impact of new regimes on informal-sector waste workers and localized ecologies
  • The urban political ecologies that result from the introduction of new technologies (e.g. waste-to-energy incineration) and regimes of waste management
  • The environmental politics and opposition to the production of waste-based commodity frontiers within a city or region
  • The complex relationship between materiality (eg volume, composition, density and its biophysical transformation) and political economy (eg ownership, access and value struggles),
  • Submissions drawing on discard studies

We invite interested participants to send their title and 250-word abstracts to Seth Schindler ( and Federico Demaria ( by October 19, 2016. We will notify accepted participants by October 22.



Demaria, F., Schindler, S. (2015). Contesting urban metabolism: struggles over waste-to-energy in Delhi, IndiaAntipode 48 (2): 293–313.

Moore, J. W. (2015) Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. New York: Verso.

Moore, J. W. (2000) Environmental crises and the metabolic rift in world-historical perspectiveOrganization & Environment 13 (2): 123-157.