RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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204 "Waste narratives" of the Anthropocene. Developing models of arts –informed citizen science
Convenor(s) Irene Janze (Artist, Buro Jan-ZE*, The Netherlands)
Chair(s) Alex Plows (Bangor University, UK)
Timetable Thursday 03 September 2015, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Peter Chalk - Room 1.4
Session abstract Today cities have accumulated large volumes of waste from a plethora of sources, generally channelled into a few waste streams. These can include the heavy or precious metals, ores, drug residues, and chemicals, and so forth that are hidden in urban waste, in addition to the more visible plastics, paper, and glass. Over half of the UK’s waste is ‘disposed’ of in landfill, whilst biodegradable waste produces methane gas. However, when we are able to sort and concentrate valuable materials, the city becomes an ‘Anthropocenic Mine’. To deal with waste effectively, we need to understand more about the multi-faceted aspects of waste, the people and organizations who generate it, and the places within which people and waste cohabit, spatially and temporally. We therefore understand waste in the city as a key part of the realm of the Anthropocene, both consisting of, and using and abusing, natural, including human resources.

The authors are part of a loose European network of artists, social and natural scientists and small innovative industrial companies, who are seeking to explore how interdisciplinary practices can enable “smarter” cities in relation to waste. Here we present “work in progress” as we seek to refine and develop our ideas and approaches. We are currently applying for AHRC network funding.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Introducing an “organic network” exploring boundary- crossing approaches to urban waste innovation
Alex Plows (Bangor University, UK)
We are an emergent, interdisciplinary “organic network” of academics, scientists and practitioners seeking to develop capacity through exploring boundary- crossing approaches to urban waste innovation. This presentation introduces the network objectives, which are informed by the need for “citizen science” (Irwin and Michael 2003) through “cross-talk” (Bucchi 2004) between scientists, innovators, policy makers and the public, enabling citizens to be part of techno –scientific innovation and service delivery. Secondly, moving beyond social science led approaches to citizen engagement, we seek to explore an arts-informed, place- based approach to public participation in urban waste innovation (Miles 2005, 2014). We seek to develop understanding of how the specificities of locality, community, identity and culture affect not only the potential uptake of specific waste technologies, but the very sorts of wastes which are produced; and to explore how such “local knowledge” (Wynne 1996) can feed back into the innovation process.
Sampling and mapping the Anthropocenic Leftoverlandscapes
Irene Janze (Artist, Buro Jan-ZE*, The Netherlands)
In “waste narratives” actors and events are produced or sometimes even rescued from invisibility or oblivion. These ‘waste narratives’ tell us a great deal about national, local and ‘glocal’ entities, history and culture. These are important factors affecting people’s consumption and waste patterns, and as such can be used as important ways of catalysing conversations about waste and the city.
To illustrate an artistic approach to enable public involvement in techno scientific innovations an artistic narrative is presented:
After two international events in cities in Europe: the marriage of the Dutch crown prince (Amsterdam, 2002), and the funeral of pope JP11 (Rome, 2005), the leftover landscape was sampled and drawn on a cartographic/ artistic map. The colors of the waste changed the outlook and atmosphere of the squares in those cities. It takes us back to the time of the chivalry, to serial monogamous love affairs and industrial innovations….
Efficient recycling systems and bioplastics: the solutions for urban wastes in the future
Marco Scoponi (University of Ferrara, Italy)
Plastics are lighter, more economic and versatile with excellent processability than other materials. For these reasons, many million tonnes of plastics are annually produced in the world and about a one quarter comes from Europe. Plastics have been applied not only in flexible packaging (40%), but also in construction materials (20%), automobile (7%), furniture, electronic industry and domestic equipments. Accordingly, the demand for plastic continues to grow and for these reasons, the plastic production is expected to reach 330 million tonnes in this year. Limited fossil resources, their growing cost, public concern about climate change and huge waste productions especially in big towns have induced many researchers to develop technological methods for efficient recycling applications and to discover environment friendly plastics. In the past decade, some important breakthroughs in biotechnology researches and in the related polymer technologies drive the plastics production from fossil-based polymers to bio-based polymers in all industrial applications and markets.
Olympic Gold - Where has all the Waste gone?
Graeme Evans (Middlesex University, UK)
The London2012 Olympic site was created in a desolate area and generated media headlines such as ‘from wasteland to outstanding winner’ (Evans, 2015). This part of London hosted infamous fridge mountains and breakers yards. It included acres of poisoned soil from London’s heavy-industrial past and is cut through by a polluted river which is still subject to road run-off and sewage effluent seeping into it. The Olympic project, one of whose five sustainability objectives included ‘waste’, has undergone a major cleanup and place-making transformation. This presentation will ask the question - where has all the waste gone? Besides the usual soil cleansing and recycling, the answer also includes local communities, environmental organisations and artists who are also active in ‘cradle-to-cradle’ (McDonough & Braungart 2002). These activities strongly contrast to the image of ‘permanent structures…concrete stadia stained and cracking, a legacy of noble architecture, quickly dating’ as foreseen by Littlewood (1964).
Urban ethnography in the ‘North’ of the urban South
Francisco Calafate-Faria (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
Living off the scraps of a city in the Global South appears to be the lowliest possible form of human activity. Disgust for what is perceived to be the margin of the margin, or the ‘South of the South’, along with the urban fear that usually accompanies it, has contaminated urban ethnographers, who have by and large avoided approaching informal waste-pickers in their movements through the city, unless these contacts were mediated by third sector organisations. Yet, through my ethnographic research in Curitiba I found evidence that counters these preconceptions, whilst complicating the geo-social imagination in which they are grounded. In the city known in Brazil as “the first-world state-capital” and “the ecological capital” (the “North of the South”), informal waste-pickers become the “South of the North” – the unsung heroes of a success story. As I argue in this paper, in order to investigate people transacting materials through the both marginalised and socially valued circuits of urban recycling, the ethnographer must both understand global flows of materials and discourses, and engage with local circuits of people and materials. Mobile, travel, and multi-sited ethnographic methods became indispensable to trace these invisible circuits of devalued people and materials, as well as to capture a wider range of views from a diverse and elusive group moving daily through the city.