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Reassembling Rubbish

Josh Lepawsky, Author

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An Introduction to Reassembling Rubbish

Reassembling Rubbish is a research project lead by Dr. Josh Lepawsky in the Department of Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland. At its core is a five year examination of the issue of electronic discards ('e-waste'). That issue entangles the project with a plethora of topics and themes associated with waste- or discard-studies beyond electronics. You may be interested to read about these themes and topics in our research magazine.

The research questions driving the project include:
  1. What is the ‘right’ thing to do with e-waste?  Where, how, and under what conditions should electronics be recycled?
  2. How might a better understanding of the knowledge, skills, and creativity of workers in foreign markets, who re-imagine and rework electronics disposed of in Canada and elsewhere into new commodities, lead to a rethinking of electronic waste as a potential source of value? 
  3. Is a system of ‘ethical’ or ‘fair’ trade in e-waste – which would include, inter alia, material and component recovery as well as repair, refurbishing, and reuse of machines – a viable alternative to the existing strategies of national and international legal prohibitions against e-waste exports from ‘developed’ to ‘developing’ countries?  If so, what would such a system of trade look like and how would it be regulated/governed?
These questions raise intertwined, complex and urgent questions about sustainability, innovation, poverty, and prosperity that transcend the political and legal boundaries of any one nation.  They also immediately raise concomitant questions:  'what counts as waste and what counts as value?'; 'how is that which becomes waste produced in the first place?'; 'who gets what wastes?; where?; how?; and under what conditions?

The research is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) Insight grant. More information about  SSHRC can be found here. More information about the specific grant funding this project can be found here.


Related Publications and Presentations


Lepawsky, Josh
. 2015. Are We Living in a Post-Basel World? Area, n/a – n/a. doi:10.1111/area.12144.

Lepawsky, Josh, Akese, C., Billah, M., Connolly, C., McNabb, C. 2014. Composing Urban Orders from Rubbish Electronics: Cityness and the Site Multiple. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. doi: 10.1111/1468-2427.12142.

Lepawsky, Josh. 2014. Worlding Electronic Waste. An invited talk at the Smithsonian Museum, Washington, DC.

Lepawsky, Josh and Mather, C. 2014. A Terminal Condition: the Cathode Ray Tube's Strange Afterlife. The Atlantic.

Lepawsky, Josh. 2014. The Changing Geography of Global Trade in Electronic Discards: time to rethink the e-waste problem. The Geographical Journal. DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12077 (Open Access: video abstract and article).

Lepawsky, Josh. 2014. Time to rethink the e-waste problem. Geography Directions Blog.

Lepawsky, Josh. 2012. Legal geographies of e-waste legislation in Canada and the US: Jurisdiction, responsibility and the taboo of production. Geoforum. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2012.03.006 (Open Access article)

Lepawsky, Josh and Billah, M. 2011. Making Chains that (Un)make Things: waste-value relations and the Bangladeshi rubbish electronics industry. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography. 93 (2), p. 121-139 (Open Access: article)

Lepawsky, Josh and Mather, C. 2011. From Beginnings and Endings to Boundaries and Edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste. Area. 43 (3), p. 242-249 (Open Access: video abstract and article)

Lepawsky, Josh and C. McNabb. 2010. Mapping the international trade and traffic of electronic waste. The Canadian Geographer. 54 (2), 177-195 (Open Access: article)

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