Top Discard Studies posts of 2019

It’s time for reminiscing! And what better topic to think back on than a year’s worth of trashy insights? Here are the top ten posts from Discard Studies in 2019 as determined by our viewers! Here’s what you all read the most:

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#10: The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the commons

By Matto Mildenberger, June 2019
Something I’ve been meaning to say about The Tragedy of the Commons. Bear with me for a small thread on why our embrace of Hardin is a stain on environmentalism: we’ve let a flawed metaphor by a racist ecologist define environmental thinking for a half-century. The environmental community needs to stop ignoring this dark intellectual heritage. A movement that seeks to define a just, vibrant climate future needs to tear away the veneer, and choose what of Hardin to keep and what to discard. We must ask: on what empirical basis do we accept his metaphor? How do we teach his metaphor? Do we contextualize its racist roots? Is it productive to the social transformation necessary to save the world from the climate crisis?


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#9: Waste is not ‘matter out of place’

By Max Liboiron, September 2019
Are we flogging a dead horse? Hasn’t Douglas been picked over enough? Aren’t we over Douglas? I don’t think so, for two reasons: first, I find that many, many scholars are using the idea of matter out of place in contradictory ways that have acute implications for theories of power. This is important because scholars and students may be against oppression and would like to intervene in structures of power, but their use of “matter out of place” conflates different theories of power that can actually allow techniques of power to go unnoticed, and may even contribute to naturalizing them. Secondly, when I dug into the work of uncovering the uses and circulations of “matter out of place,” the editors of Discard Studies, three seasoned scholars of discard studies, came across some surprises!



#8: What the world misses about recycling

By Frank Ackerman, October 2018
Waste management, formerly a dull technical subject, became an exciting topic of political and environmental debate in the 1980s. With rapidly growing interest in recycling, advocates sought economic justification in the need to solve a supposed landfill crisis (since thoroughly debunked[2]), and the claimed cost reduction created by recycling (prices paid for recycled materials are highly cyclical; recycling most obviously reduces waste management costs at the peak of the cycle). Both of these claims miss the point. Recycling was never just a solution to a disposal crisis, and it did not uniformly reduce total waste management costs. Rather, it addresses a range of other concerns that are equally valid but nearly impossible to quantify.



#7: Does recycling actually conserve or preserve things?

By Samantha MacBride, February 2019
The distinction between conserving resources for use in production, and preserving complex ecosystems (which include people in human settlements), is useful for a question I now pose about recycling.  Does recycling, in the way it is practiced today, actually conserve or preserve things that matter? To answer “yes” requires that a set of assumptions hold true.



#6: Bibliography on Noise Pollution

Compiled by Max Liboiron, October 2013 (Discard Studies third most popular post of all time and last year’s top post!)
If waste is, broadly defined, the externalities of social and technical systems, then noise is a quintessential form of waste. Noise pollution is  disturbing or excessive sound that may harm humans or animals, and, not surprisingly, it usually emits from industrial technologies. Perhaps because it exceeds the material focus of most pollution laws, it wasn’t until the 1970s (1975 in Portland, to be exact) that U.S. governments promoted noise from a “nuisance” to a full-fledged environmental problem like its material cousins in the pollution panoply. Yet, noise remains a generally neglected source for the theorization of waste, pollution, and harm outside of the technical and medical disciplines. If you are interested in remedying the situation, here is a bibliography for you.



#5: Waste Colonialism

By Max Liboiron, November 2018 (and last year’s #10 top post)
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.



#4: Toxins or Toxicants? Why the Difference Matters

By Max Liboiron, September 2017
Toxicants are remarkably different from toxins not only because of their synthetic origins, but also because of their mass tonnage, wide economic production and distribution processes, compositional heterogeneity, and increasingly ubiquity in homes, bodies, and environments. These differences between toxins and toxicants is not a matter of degree, but of kind. They are two different kinds of things materially and politically.



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

By Max Liboiron, March 2016
There is an oft-quoted statistic that municipal solid waste accounts for only three percent of the waste in the United States. The remaining 97 percent is industrial. The 97-3 ratio has become a truism of discard studies. But Director of Research at the New York City Department of Sanitation, Samantha MacBride, noticed that we all seemed to be citing each other. Turns out, the number is a bit shady.



#2: Map of 40 most influential environmental justice conflicts in the US

By EJOT, January 2015 (and Discard Studies top post of all time!)
The 40 most influential environmental justice conflicts in recent American history are now included in a Global Atlas of Environmental Justice. The U.S. cases were compiled by the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. The interactive atlas is a product of the EJOLT project (Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade), which brings together dozens of universities and environmental justice organizations from four continents.



#1: Adam Minter: In the Flow of things

An interview with Adam Minter, May 2019
DS: What are the main myths you have to de-mythologize every time you address discards?
AM: There’s really only one: the persistent idea that developed countries “dump” their recyclable and re-usable discards on developing countries.
It’s a difficult myth to address for three key reasons…. read more!