waste_sorting_in_porto_venereIntegrating waste systems: interrogating system boundaries and performance possibilities 
American Association of Geographers, April 2016

Lily Baum Pollans, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
Jonathan Krones, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Waste is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. In addition to being composed of an uncountable variety of materials, waste is generated and managed by actors at many scales, across disparate geographies, and through numerous processes. As discard studies scholars (among others) have noted, wastes have typically been categorized and treated—studied, regulated, managed—as discrete streams. Liquid waste is different from solid waste; industrial waste is different from municipal waste; hazardous waste is different from non-hazardous waste. These classificatory schemes render certain wastes less visible than others, and in so doing, have perpetuated the idea that isolated efforts to reduce waste in at a single locus—the household, often—will solve a nebulous and generalized “waste problem” (Liboiron 2014; MacBride, 2012; Gille, 2007). At the same time, the heterogeneity of wastes has historically necessitated approaches to infrastructure, management, and conceptualization that target to specific properties of waste materials in order to successfully satisfy dominant societal objectives such as sanitation or cost effective containment. With the acknowledgement of climate change and the many other ecological and social impacts of our modern systems of production and consumption, we ask whether these traditional, tailored approaches to waste will be able to adapt to new, broader performance goals.
With this session, we seek to improve our understanding of the extent to which the dimensions we use to conceptualize and define our waste systems either enable or constrain different performance possibilities of those systems, especially in light of a societal push towards sustainability. We seek scholars who work on questions of waste at a variety of scales and across material types to submit papers that transgress traditional waste boundaries or challenge their efficacy.

Topics could include:

  •  – geographic abstraction of waste generation vs. physical emplacement of waste disposal
  •  – the fractionating of MSW / the emergence of organic waste as a distinct municipal waste management category
  •  – transboundary movements of waste materials and the diffusion of responsibility
  •  – the regulatory possibilities of reconceptualizing waste as the output of a socio-metabolic process
  •  – the implications of the hazardous/non-hazardous waste dichotomy / how hazards in officially non-hazardous wastes contaminate the biosphere
  •  – integrating waste throughout the life-cycle, e.g. food waste at the farm, processor, retailer, restaurant, and home
  •  – history of waste classifications and divergence of the possibilities frontier

Submission procedure:

If you are interested in joining this paper session, please submit a 250-word abstract to Lily Baum Pollans (lilyp@mit.edu) and Jonathan Krones (jonathan.krones@yale.edu) by Friday, October 20th. Please feel free to contact either of the session organizers about potential paper topics or with other questions concerning this call. We will get back to you before October 25th.  Please note that participants are also expected to register and submit their abstracts through the AAG website themselves by October 27th at latest. More details about the AAG-meeting can be found here: