Reassembling Rubbish

Waste and indeterminacy II

Fair trade e-waste? Exploring the possibilities and limits of an experiment in ethical economy

Josh Lepawsky
Memorial University, St. John's, NL, Canada

Using the conceptual and material indeterminacy of waste as an opening, this paper explores a concrete but still fledgling community economy devoted to experimenting with fair trade electronics recycling. The paper draws together lessons from the advocates and the critics of fair trade with insights from the literature on community economies. It seeks to understand how such an experiment in building a community economy might be related to the four coordinates of ethical economic action elaborated by J.K. Gibson-Graham and their collaborators: commons, consumption, necessity, and surplus. These coordinates sketch the outlines of an economic theory of mutual interdependence and they offer a way to orient attempts to encourage such concrete experiments like fair trade electronics recycling to take root and flourish. The paper develops its theoretical aspects via a discussion of ongoing original research on such trade between sites in the US and Mexico. The research is being undertaken by a hybrid research collective comprised of academics (faculty and graduate students), members of private recycling firms (their owners and workers), and members of an NGO devoted to promoting fair trade electronics recycling.

Untangling complexity: analyzing waste management in tourism dependent communities

Rhianna Nagel, Jutta Gutberlet
University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

Management of peak periods of waste production in tourist destinations that experience peak visitation periods, such as Valizas, Uruguay, is a complex social-ecological problem. This paper overviews a study that analyzed the waste management system in Valizas, Uruguay within a social-ecological resilience framework to understand the system’s effectiveness, to determine feasible improvements and to identify research approaches that are most appropriate in this socio-ecological context. Resilience and its associated adaptive cycles were used to identify waste and tourism system components, dynamics and interconnectedness. A case study was implemented through Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Grounded Theory (GT) to clarify these system attributes by way of iterative processes of research and action. Interviews, surveys, focus groups and community maps were applied with diverse stakeholders to collaboratively develop and implement two waste management improvement strategies. Transparency, organization, waste diversion, infrastructure, and education were considered key determinants of waste system effectiveness. The inclusion of multiple factors in the analysis of this waste system and the generation of understanding through close contact and interaction were complicated and time-consuming. However, this approach allowed the researcher to develop trust; tease out complex components, processes, structures, and feedbacks; couple theory with practice; prioritize genuine understanding and community values; and contribute to waste system resilience. PAR methods, in particular, contributed to the resilience of the waste management system in Valizas, Uruguay by enhancing the potential and connectedness of the system - via improved social capital and mobilization.

Defining Pollution by Defining Harm: The Rise and Fall of Assimilative Capacity from Sewage to Plastics

Max Liboiron
New York University, New York, NY, USA

In the early twentieth century, as most American municipal governments created sewage systems that terminated in rivers where they also drew their drinking water, how to determine if a waterway was polluted, and to what extent, became a pressing concern. Different definitions of pollution proliferated. A common solution was found by calculating assimilative capacity; the amount of pollutant a waterway, body, or ecosystem could handle before harm occurred. Microorganisms in rivers, human bodies, and even entire landscapes seemed to be able to absorb, metabolize, or withstand a certain amount of abuse and stay healthy. This “natural threshold” of harm was identified, calculated, standardized, and codified in pollution regulation. This presentation covers the rise of assimilative capacity as a hallmark of pollution definition and thus of pollution control, and how it is now being defied by twenty-first century waste like plastic pollution and endocrine disruptors. These new materials are challenging the determinacy of pollution and metrics of harm that have been the focus of regulations for the past century that are still in use today.

Legal geographies of waste in Canadian cities

Kate Parizeau1, Josh Lepawsky2
1University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada, 2Memorial University, St. John’s, NL, Canada

Are fregans thieves? Are the police allowed to sort through residential trash bins stored on private property? As the guardians of public health in cities, what rights do municipal authorities have to access and manage waste products? In this presentation, we investigate these and other questions through an analysis of waste-related by-laws and legal case studies from four Canadian cities (St. John's, Guelph, Toronto, and Vancouver). Jurisdiction (the spatially contingent authority of law) is a mutable construct, especially with respect to waste. Whether the land that temporarily harbours residential waste is considered public or private property has been contested in Canadian courts, as has the public or private nature of the contents of the waste stream. It can therefore be surmised that the regulation of waste and wasting behaviours is meant to discipline the relationship between citizens and government (e.g. mitigating nuisance, facilitating service provision, making individuals more visible and legible in the eyes of the law, and controlling and capturing material flows). Space is used as a flexible and malleable legal medium in these interactions, and the material treatment of waste may invoke notions of constraint, freedom, citizenship, governance, etc. The physical manifestation of waste in cities is therefore both a potential economic resource (and thereby subject to contestable property rights) and a source of symbolic meaning (e.g. as anti-social behaviour, as evidence, as material link between citizen and service provider, etc.). By what means and to what ends are waste and its symbolic meanings regulated in city spaces?

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