Reassembling Rubbish

Waste and indeterminacy III

Thermochemical Waste Conversion: Uncertainty in Material and Energy Transformations

Samantha MacBride
Baruch College, City University of New York, New York, NY, USA

In 2013, interest among financial, petrochemical and waste sectors is growing globally around thermochemical technologies that accept and transform wastes. Such technologies take discards containing carbon - including municipal solid waste (MSW), industrial residues, and other substances - and convert them into fuels and chemicals. Using methods of gasification, pyrolysis, and thermal depolymerization, such technologies are today being advanced by multi-sector transnational firms as profitable, safe, and climate-friendly alternatives to landfilling or conventional incineration. This discursive and practical work has begun to take hold since the mid-2000's, with governments considering plans to transform carbon-rich garbage into commodities.

Despite claims of safety and high return on investment, the practical application of such technologies is marked by profound uncertainty. Of concern are threats from toxic releases; fiscal and operational risks stemming from scalar and temporal qualities of facility construction and operation; and more diffuse uncertainties attending the routing of carbon-bearing waste materials through circuits of valorization and exchange that are bound up in the global petrochemical economy. Uncertainty in this regard is complex, knitting together multiple aspects that involve chemical reactions and the distinction between matter and energy; and manifesting in aborted start-ups, crises of project finance, and opposition by social movements focused on environmental justice and zero waste.

This paper explores the specifically 21st century quality of the indeterminacy of waste, as new forms of sophistication and naiveté attend discourses of support for and opposition to conversion, and as the practice struggles to gain infrastructural and economic foothold in cities throughout the world.

Museum of Contemporary Rubbish

Alice Bradshaw
University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK

The Museum of Contemporary Rubbish was established by Alice Bradshaw in 2010 for an alternative art market the artist co-curated for Barnaby Art Festival in Macclesfield, UK. The museum collects items of everyday rubbish at specific events or locations which form an online archive of the collections from across the world including Europe, the US and also Cuba. The museum also has a research department and a merchandise department, with research into artists' uses of waste materials in their practices forming Alice's MA by Research at the University of Huddersfield, UK. This paper presents an overview of the Museum of Contemporary Rubbish and research to date which looks at defining and categorising artists' use of waste materials.

Museum of Contemporary Rubbish

Rubbish | A research Project

Artists Talking | Exposing Contemporary Visual Artists' Practice

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