Reassembling Rubbish

Waste and Indeterminacy I

Studying Waste/Discards with the notion of ‘Boundaries and Edges’

Grace Akese
Memorial University, St John's, NL, Canada

Recent methodological approaches to the study of waste/discards in geography converges around two main concepts: materiality and performativity. This move has involved a focus on research methods that is attentive to the unstable material properties of waste and the different associations that emerges around these materials. Lepawsky and Mather recently proposed the notion of ‘boundaries and edges’ as a methodological construct that provides a possible way for waste scholars to grapple with the unstable material register of waste and it related associations. ‘Boundaries and edges’ are relational effects of actions of things, people (including those of researchers) and places. They are effects of relations that are always in the making through the practices that order things, people and places. We therefore have to follow practices as a way into the realities of ‘boundaries and edges’. This paper is a reflection on the notion of ‘boundaries and edges’ through a discussion of how I studied the practices of trading electronic waste in Accra, Ghana.

Taking the notion as a methodological point, I use empirically grounded instances to 
explore what it means for waste/discard scholars to search for ‘boundaries and edges’ in their research practices. How might we do waste/discard studies that are attentive to the making, unmaking, and remaking of boundaries and edges? What might boundaries and edges offer us? Exploring these questions, I aim to open up their notion as both a subject and method of inquiry.

A Preliminary Investigation of Waste to Energy Uptake by Ontario Municipalities

Yvonne Rollins, Jamie Baxter
Western University, London, ON, Canada

We present preliminary findings from an investigation of low and uneven uptake of waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies by municipalities in Ontario. WTE technologies (such as incineration and anaerobic digestion) divert residential waste from landfill by processing it as an energy resource. Thus the presence of WTE mediates between waste being managed either as a valuable commodity or a negative externality. We will explore how WTE affects attitudes and behaviours of actors involved in waste management policy and practice. Industrial ecology literature suggests that reciprocity between actors is required in order to minimise indeterminacy and optimise value associated with waste material exchanges. Actors' attitudes towards waste are also affected by environmental justice issues related to the spatial distribution of its associated burdens and benefits.

This paper explores the impact of WTE upon waste management systems at municipal (macro) and household (micro) scales via policy and media discourse analyses and interviews with policy actors. Using these qualitative methods we assess the significance of socio-cultural contexts and place-specific policy frameworks within which scientific information related to human health and environmental impacts of WTE are interpreted by, and negotiated among, policy actors. Uniquely, we offer insights into policy actors' roles as household waste actors, since Actor Network Theory (ANT) suggests such phenomena are connected.

Food Waste: On the Horizon for Extended Producer Responsibility

Virginia Maclaren
University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Extended producer responsibility programs (EPR) in Canada for ewaste, municipal hazardous waste, packaging waste and tires have grown significantly in the last five years. EPR programs are meant to transfer the costs and overall responsibility of end of life management of a product from the municipalities and the general taxpayer to producers and consumers. In theory at least, they also have the goal of incentivizing producers to redesign their products so that they produce less waste. In its 2009 discussion paper on the future of EPR programs in the province, the Ontario Ministry of Environment identified branded food items as a material to be designated for EPR within five years. Although this recommendation has not yet been confirmed, there will be enormous challenges to overcome before such a program could come into effect. In this paper, I address a number of questions that arise about how and whether to implement EPR for household food waste. For example, what are the multiple meanings of food waste? What percentage of food has identifiable producers? Will EPR promote design of food that is less wasteful, less harmful to the environment or easier to reuse? Can design changes that create less wasteful food occur only with increases of other types of waste? Are there social justice concerns about visible or hidden EPR fees added to the cost of food? Are there alternatives to EPR of food waste that accomplish the same goals as EPR?

Moving Waste Around: The Impacts of Waste Transportation from an Environmental Sociology Perspective

Cassandra Kuyvenhoven
Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada

Waste management is an important topic for environmental sociological analysis. Waste transportation is an essential component of waste management systems. Waste is moved from its point of generation (households, industry, institutions and so on) to its point of disposal (processing centers, landfills, waste-to-energy facilities, incinerators, dumps and so on). This movement of waste has significant impacts.

Canada is the world’s highest per capita municipal solid waste producer. Between 2005 and 2006, Canada’s municipal waste rose from 791 kg of waste per person to over 1000 kg of waste per person. In 2002, Canada transported over one million tones of waste within and between provinces, and exported waste to other countries such as the United States, Mexico, China, and Korea. Waste transportation poses more significant health and safety risks than landfilling.

Despite the tremendous powers and benefits of science and technology, there are many unpredictable consequences of issues that are beyond individuals’ control. These issues are ‘translated’ by engineers and scientists into a complex set of risks, including risks to the environment, human and animal health, economics, and politics. Members of the public are wary of scientifically described risks and want to focus on the unpredictable effects which scientists are unable to define. Using the literature on risk and uncertainty, this paper will examine the determinable and indeterminable risks involved in the transportation of waste.

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