Roundup: Waste & COVID-19

face mask in a gutter

What do we know about the relationships between waste and COVID-19? Some figures and insights are emerging, but given that we’re in the thick of the pandemic and the expressions of a global pandemic will still vary greatly by region, type of waste, and change over time, any knowledge will be both partial and early.

As such, we advocate for a position of epistemic humility in relation to the pandemic, the recognition that there are real limits to our knowledge. As we watch researchers delve into unfamiliar fields of epidemiology, public health, federal policy, and global pandemics, it reminds us here at Discard Studies about the dangers of overconfidence and that “being a true expert involves not only knowing stuff about the world but also knowing the limits of your knowledge and expertise” (Angner, 2020). We believe “Epistemic humility is an intellectual virtue. It is grounded in the realization that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete—and that it might require revision in light of new evidence” (Angner, 2020).

With that in mind, we’ve curated a round-up of some of the knowledge circulating about waste, pollution, disposability and COVID-19, some of it by experts in the areas that pandemics relate to, others not, and all of it partial. Before we launch into the beautiful bibliography of it all, though, we want to note that there is an acute disparity in who is producing this knowledge–mainly men, mostly white people in the global north, and rarely Black, Indigenous, and scholars of colour whose communities are often disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and whose combination of expertise and lived experience is missing. We start our bibliography with a list of research that shows these disparities in our own knowledge community. The existing uneveness of knowledge production has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Disparities in knowledge production during the pandemic

Peer-reviewed published studies

Using Dr. Jane Summer’s Gender Balance Assessment Tool (GBAT), 70% of authors below are men and 30% are women based on first names.

News, magazine articles, letters, and commentary

For news coverage of waste management and COVID-19 in the United States, see Waste Dive’s news aggregator on the topic.