Top Discard Studies articles in 2018

In the past year, Discard Studies has hosted over 48k visitors reading over 650 blog posts, from space light pollution to mold art. Here are our reader’s top ten articles, ranked by the number of unique views for 2018.


#10: Waste Colonialism

Published in November, this article links colonial access to land with patterns of waste and pollution: “Waste colonialism describes how waste and pollution are part of the domination of one group in their homeland by another group. The concept has been gaining traction since the 1990s to explain patterns of power in wasting and pollution. Because all waste and pollution are about power by maintaining structures that designate what is valuable and what is not, understanding the role of colonialism in waste is crucial for understanding waste and power generally.”
The article covers t
he rise of the term “waste colonialism,” explains how colonialism is about access to land, argues that waste and pollution make Land available for settler goals through dispossession, discusses dispossession by contamination, outlines the difference between capitalism and colonialism, and finishes by arguing that not all pollution and waste are colonial before ending with an extended annotated bibliography for readers who want more.
This post is related to a recent article in Teen Vogue on Plastic Colonialism, also written by Max Liboiron.


#9: Discard Studies Bibliography

Because Discard Studies is a diverse field of study, we keep a bibliography of texts–mainly articles and books–in the field. We know many PhD comps, research papers, and literature reviews have benefited from the list, which we maintain by way of The Dirt, a monthly publication of new texts. While it isn’t a thrilling read, our bibliography is a key resource for our readers.


#8: Refusal as Research Method in Discard Studies

Ethnographic refusal is a practice by which researchers and research participants together decide not to make particular information available for use within the academy. Its purpose is not to bury information, but to ensure that communities are able to respond to issues on their own terms.
This article, originally published in 2016 by Alex Zahara, explains the concept of ethnographic refusal as a key method in discard studies, and provides an annotated bibliography for those who may want to learn more. It’s sibling post, Ethnographic Refusal: A How-to Guide, offers readers a practical guide to carrying out this method. This article has been in our top ten every year since its publication, receiving over 18k views.


#7: The what and the why of Discard Studies

After an 8 month break, Discard Studies came back with this post by Max Liboiron and Josh Lepawsky in September 2018, outlining some of the main themes that have been articulated on the blog since its inception in 2007:

  1. Structures, not behaviours, uphold norms and practices of waste and wasting.
  2. The measurement of waste makes waste a particular type of thing; waste does not preexist its categorization and measurement. 
  3. Materialities matter.
  4. Waste and pollution are about power.
  5. Like all good research, discard studies takes sides. At its best, discard studies announces its version of good and right action.
  6. One of the important arguments of discard studies is that ideas of what is good and right, normal and natural, are built into infrastructures. 



#6: Discard Studies Compendium

The Discard Studies Compendium is a list of critical key terms. In the past few years there has been both a resurgence of approaches to studying waste and wasting as well as an interest in the potential of waste to build interdisciplinary bridges of relevance to pressing questions of our time. Different authors have contributed different key terms:


#5: San Francisco’s Famous 80% Waste Diversion Rate: Anatomy of an Exemplar

Originally published in 2013 by Samantha MacBride (author of Recycling Reconsidered), this article explores one of the most celebrated recycling rates in North America: San Francisco’s 80% diversion rate. Yet, MacBride argues, “San Francisco’s 80% diversion rate is, in fact, a unique reflection of what the San Francisco Department of Environment counts, and how it calculates and publicizes what it counts. I present details below, but the bottom line is this. San Francisco’s diversion rate is so high because the city includes large quantities of very heavy construction materials (such as excavated fill and rubble, which are reused as infill and road base ) and biosolids (applied to agricultural land) as ‘diversion.'” In short, our #5 article is a type of statistical investigative journalism into how waste flows are represented and the politics they engender.


New York City sanitation dept. employee sweeping street, ca. 1910.

#4: A history of New York City’s solid waste management in photographs

By the nineteenth century, New York City was persistently and famously filthy. While other urban centers had begun to clean up their streets, approaching vessels could still smell New York far out to sea. Yet, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) was founded in 1881 as the Department of Street Cleaning and became one of the first sanitation agencies in the world that democratically cleaned and picked up snow from every street, regardless of socioeconomic class or neighborhood. Today, the New York City Department of Sanitation is the largest sanitation department in the world. Not only does the DSNY continue to pick up waste and snow, it is also integral as first responders in urban disasters, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
This post is an abbreviated history via archival photographs of NYC’s municipal waste collection history, curated from the New York City Department of Sanitation’s own archives.


#3: Municipal versus Industrial Waste: Questioning the 3-97 ratio

There is an oft-quoted statistic that municipal solid waste accounts for only three percent of the waste in the United States, and the other 97% is from industrial sources. Yet we do not have an idea of the quantity of industrial and non-household solid waste produced in North America. When we do have ideas of (sub)quantities, we do not have good classifications, so we do not know what we are quantifying. This post looks at the data that is available, its sources, its limitations, and its politics.
Originally published in 2016 by Max Liboiron, this article is often used by educators and instructors to teach about types, scales, and politics of solid waste.


#2: How the Ocean Cleanup Array Fundamentally Misunderstands Marine Plastics and Causes Harm

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The Ocean Cleanup Array, designed by Boylan Slat to clean plastics from the ocean like a baleen whale, is one of these good intentions: technological fixes like the Array do harm to the larger project of ending plastic pollution, which is a complex social, environmental, and economic problem. It is also going to damage and kill marine life.
Though this article was published in 2015, it remains relevant to the continued popularity of the Cleanup Array, despite the numerous setbacks of the project, many of which are described in the article.



Our number one article has been the number one article every year since its publication in 2013… and it’s a list.

#1: Bibliography on Noise Pollution

Discard Studies is meant as a resource, a hub, and a community network. And our readers use it accordingly. This post on noise pollution, which is literally a list of critical and social texts related to noise pollution, was created because there weren’t many studies out there on the topic. Every year we update it because, well, readers like you keep it in our top five posts, year after year after year. Sounds like someone needs to write a dissertation (let us know when you’re done so we can add it to the list)!