Article Alert! New texts in discard studies!

Since critical discard studies doesn’t (yet!) have its own journal, conference, or department, Discard Studies publishes a regular table of contents alerts for articles, reports, and books in the field. If you are interested in becoming an editor for non-English article alerts on Discard Studies, or know of a recent article for the next article alert, please contact Max Liboiron:

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Balayannis, A. (2017). “Encountering the kiln: visual field notes from an incinerator,” Toxic News Feb 2017.
This piece is a photo essay of my first encounter with the incinerator. It is a glimpse of the processes and practices that constitute hazardous waste disposal. I was in the midst of fieldwork at the time this visual essay was assembled, therefore this piece is best viewed as visual field notes; partial observations, connections, and critical moments. Photographs were taken to note the materialities of the incineration process, for example: the unruliness of ash, the instruments used to test waste, and the continuous battles with rust and decay. The camera, of course, also shapes the encounter, with the tour guide directing my experience of the facility toward photographable objects and practices – but as scholarship attentive to waste materialities has illustrated time and again, matter has a habit of misbehaving.

Cantoni, R. (2016). “The waste crisis in Campania, South Italy: a historical perspective on an epidemiological controversy.Endeavour, 40(2), 102-113.
Between 2001 and 2009, the area of Naples, South Italy, repeatedly hit the headlines of national and international media due to the waste management crisis that on many occasions filled up the streets of the region with huge piles of waste. What soon emerged as the main bone of contention concerned the connections between the population’s health and the presence of dumps on the territory. What the risks for health actually were, who was entitled to assess them, and whether pollution from proximity to dumps caused health problems were all topics that came to the fore during a debate that took place within the Italian epidemiological community, alongside the political and governance crisis.

Cantor, A. (2017). “Material, Political, and Biopolitical Dimensions of “Waste” in California Water Law. Antipode, doi: 10.1111/anti.12314.
California’s state constitution prohibits the “wasteful” use of water; however, waste is subjective and context dependent. This paper considers political, biopolitical, and material dimensions of waste, focusing on the role of legal processes and institutions. The paper examines a case involving legal accusations of “waste and unreasonable use” of water by the Imperial Irrigation District in Imperial County, California. The determination that water was being “wasted” justified the transfer of water from agricultural to urban areas. However, defining these flows of water as a waste neglected water’s complexity and relationality, and the enclosure of a “paracommons” threatens to bring about negative environmental and public health consequences. The paper shows that the project of discursively labeling certain material resource flows as waste and re-allocating these resources to correct this moral and economic failure relies upon legal processes, and carries political and biopolitical implications.

Grant-Smith, D., Mayes, R. (2017). “Freedom, part-time pirates, and poo police: Regulating the heterotopic space of the recreational boat.”Environment and Planning A. First published date: March-16-2017
At all levels of governance from international convention to local policy, the regulation of pollution from boats and ships has been steeped in conflict and subject to resistance. Recreational boaters, in particular, are often highly resistant to attempts to regulate their boating activity, particularly on environmental grounds. Such ongoing resistance poses a significant policy compliance challenge. This paper seeks to shed light on this complex, ongoing and broader field of opposition to environmental management by way of a case study analysis of resistance to on-board sewage regulations on the part of recreational boaters in Queensland, Australia. This resistance on the part of ‘everyday’ citizens is examined through the lens of heterotopia. In consequence, the paper can contribute to understandings more broadly of problems beleaguering environmental policy while also attending to the deeply implicated social roles of recreational boating spaces; namely as heterotopias of compensation and/or illusion. It also highlights how these heterotopic positionings are intensified by the scatological orientation of the policy under study.

Malin, S. (2017). “Flatlining: Exploring hidden toxic landscapes and the embodiment of contamination at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, USA.” Toxic News Feb 2017.
Rocky Flats has received relatively little international attention as a significant place of atomic and industrial toxicity. Somehow, its messy atomic history has been redacted, swallowed up alongside that of many other military nuclear installations and laboratories worldwide. Whilst the wildlife flourishes across Rocky Flats, despite a legacy of contamination, the local communities suffer invisibly.

Moore, E. (2017). “The Value of Waste: The Cycle of Products and Byproducts in Nepal’s Eastern Hills Scripps Senior Theses. 946.
The purpose of this thesis will be to explore conceptions of waste in Nepal’s rural village of Simigaau to understand what constitutes waste and in what ways it is critical to the community’s physical and cultural survival. Due to the contribution of many aspects of daily life in the creation of “waste” in Simigaau –what it is and what it means – I hope to use a whole systems approach to understand the multitude of factors that affect how villagers view waste and whether its value can provide insight into a local way of life. Moreover, I aim to explore whether a community’s waste – seen and unseen – provide insight into a local way of life and if so, how this insight may be applied to both Nepal at large and connotations of “waste” in the West.

Mosquera, D. (2016). “What Does Trash Have to Do with Revolutions? Re-thinking Trash and the Renewal of Political Ecologies.” In Mohsen El Khouni, Mouldi Guessoumi, and Mohamed Salah Omri (Eds.), University and Society within the Context of Arab Revolutions and New Humanism (pp. 27-37). Tunis, Tunisia: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
In the last two decades we’ve seen a considerable number of visual narratives, straddling fiction and documentary work, that focus their cinematic, dramatic, and testimonial efforts on trash and trash collectors, revealing a diverse semantics of retrieval: scrap redeemers, recyclers, informal waste pickers, street rummagers, catadores, cartoneros, and recuperadores. This phenomenon has been accompanied or preceded by literary, anthropological, filmic, or socio-economic explorations—to name some salient approaches—on detritus, slums, and marginalization, offering an academic and activist backdrop to a mixed ethnographic geography of social dislocation, dehumanization, and marginalization that underscores cracks and contradictions in the political economy of surplus production and consumption in modern societies. In addition, the rising symbolic value heaped upon the “scavenger” as a distressed but potentially privileged subject of insurgence and political and ecological consciousness—whose environmental status endows her with redeeming powers in the context of trash—heralds a fundamental representational shift from the Marxist lumpen subject of the XIX century. Latin American countries, like most nations in the global South seen on the trailing side of the modernity divide, have been particularly attuned to the realities and symbolism of informal recyclers and the object of their trade: trash. As consumerist and financier economies determine ever more forcefully than ever social and economic relations, turning entire populations and assets into “junk,” we must inquire about the paradox of an emergent class of recyclers moving to the forefront of the indexical image. This emphasis on recyclers in a way challenges the very structures of refusal and control that have since the XIX century made the indiscernibility of trashed humanity a principal objective. Perceptions and realities have been shifting worldwide in the last two decades, sometimes in radical ways; and we should, at this article argues, pay closer attention, given that this change also heralds types of recognition that bring to the front of the global stage, in the midst of intensified global economic and environmental depravity, the paradoxical possibility of a renewed political ecology.

Pitkanen, L. (2017). “Black Wednesday: Radiation, stigma and property values.” Environment and Planning A, 0308518X17699205.
In the 1970s the community of Port Hope, Ontario was discovered widely contaminated with radioactive waste from a local refinery. Under conditions of mounting waste, inadequate remediation, growing publicity, and no compensation, the implications of the waste for property values manifested into intense social conflict. The author traced these tensions over the last 40 years, showing how the primacy of private property disintegrated social relations while securing political and economic power for the state. Indeed, the state is actively involved in the institution of private property, not simply in regulating property markets and upholding property ownership as a de facto component of capitalism, but in manipulating its disciplinary effects as a form of social control.


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Wang, Y. (2017). “To stand opposite the government, but not against it: Green Xiaoxiang and environmental participation in Hunan Province, China.” Toxic News Feb 2017.
To stand opposite the government, but not against it: this is the basic principle of Green Xiaoxiang, an environmental organization actively promoting pollution monitoring, environmental advocacy and environmental policy research. By sticking to this principle, Green Xiaoxiang has tried to adopt cooperative measures, and have played an effective role in environmental governance in China, a country with limited space for public participation.


Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Waters, C. N., Barnosky, A. D., Palmesino, J., Rönnskog, A. S., … & Grinevald, J. (2016). “Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: A geological perspective.” The Anthropocene Review, 2053019616677743.
We assess the scale and extent of the physical technosphere, defined here as the summed material output of the contemporary human enterprise. It includes active urban, agricultural and marine components, used to sustain energy and material flow for current human life, and a growing residue layer, currently only in small part recycled back into the active component. Preliminary estimates suggest a technosphere mass of approximately 30 trillion tonnes (Tt), which helps support a human biomass that, despite recent growth, is ~5 orders of magnitude smaller. The physical technosphere includes a large, rapidly growing diversity of complex objects that are potential trace fossils or ‘technofossils’. If assessed on palaeontological criteria, technofossil diversity already exceeds known estimates of biological diversity as measured by richness, far exceeds recognized fossil diversity, and may exceed total biological diversity through Earth’s history. The rapid transformation of much of Earth’s surface mass into the technosphere and its myriad components underscores the novelty of the current planetary transformation.

imgresZimring, C. A. (2017). Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective. JHU Press.
Besides being the right thing to do for Mother Earth, recycling can also make money—particularly when it comes to upcycling, a zero waste practice where discarded materials are fashioned into goods of greater economic or cultural value. In Upcycling Aluminum, Carl A. Zimring explores how the metal’s abundance after World War II—coupled with the significant economic and environmental costs of smelting it from bauxite ore—led to the industrial production of valuable durable goods from salvaged aluminum.
Beginning in 1886 with the discovery of how to mass produce aluminum, the book examines the essential part the metal played in early aviation and the world wars, as well as the troubling expansion of aluminum as a material of mass disposal. Recognizing that scrap aluminum was as good as virgin material and much more affordable than newly engineered metal, designers in the postwar era used aluminum to manufacture highly prized artifacts. Zimring takes us on a tour of post-1940s design, examining the use of aluminum in cars, trucks, airplanes, furniture, and musical instruments from 1945 to 2015.
By viewing upcycling through the lens of one material, Zimring deepens our understanding of the history of recycling in industrial society. He also provides a historical perspective on contemporary sustainable design practices. Along the way, he challenges common assumptions about upcycling’s merits and adds a new dimension to recycling as a form of environmental absolution for the waste-related sins of the modern world. Raising fascinating questions of consumption, environment, and desire, Upcycling Aluminum is for anyone interested in industrial and environmental history, discard studies, engineering, product design, music history, or antiques.