RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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7 Treating waste as a resource (1)
Convenor(s) Les Levidow (The Open University, UK)
Chair(s) Les Levidow (The Open University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room RGS-IBG Drayson Room
Session abstract The term 'waste' has an ontological ambiguity, e.g. as an excess, surplus, burden and/or resource. Its re-use is more feasible or thinkable for a surplus than for an excess (Bulkeley and Gregson, 2009). If a surplus finds no ultimate use, then its disposal imposes economic and environmental burdens which are often disproportionately distributed across race and income clusters. Since the late 20th century, waste has come to be associated with newer ontologies, e.g., as toxic chemical by-product of industrial activity; as double-edged burden of manufacturing essential pharmaceuticals. Waste is now seen also as surplus material from industrial manufacturing and consumption, e.g. originating in over-production or in by-products. Valuing waste as a resource, the ‘waste hierarchy’ mandates an upwards shift from disposal (e.g. landfill), to recovery, recycling, re-use and ideally reduction at source (Hultman and Corvellec, 2012). 'Treating waste' has several meanings, e.g. designing, classifying, framing, segregating and metamorphosing waste. Its treatment can have various configurations for converting waste into outputs. Each facility can have different scalings as regard waste volumes, geospatial flows, public goods versus bads, their distribution and agents’ responsibility for such issues (Alexander and Reno, 2014; Reno, 2014, Levidow and Upham, 2016). Waste is inherently socio-material, framed by waste regimes – historically specific modes of valorizing waste and of disciplining subjects (Cooper, 2009; Gille, 2010). Waste flows are shaped by the interplay of waste regimes, policy agendas, regulatory pressures and markets, which readily cross national borders. Societal choices generally remain implicit -- but can become explicit through controversy or critical analysis.
Linked Sessions Treating waste as a resource (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Internalising shit: The urban political ecologies of wastewater recycling in Southern California
Joseph Williams (Durham University, UK)
While cities are under pressure to secure new water supplies to lubricate growth and development, there are increasing calls to sustainably govern the tensions -- or ‘nexus’ between water, energy, food and other resources (Allouche et al 2015; Cairns and Krywoszynska 2016). As such, governing water and the resource nexus are increasingly integral to achieving urban ecological modernisation and economic growth (Williams et al 2014). Increasingly, cities are exploring indirect (and sometimes direct) potable wastewater reuse as a sustainable source of alternative water. This paper teases apart the complex politics behind an emerging discursive antithesis between wastewater recycling and seawater desalination as representing divergent resource futures for San Diego, California. Although both desalination and recycling represent techno-managerial water fixes, and despite several similarities between the processes, they are associated with very different political mobilisations. While seawater desalination has received sustained critical backlash from environmental and civil society organisations, wastewater recycling has largely found support. Indeed, the City of San Diego’s major new Pure Water reuse project has been at the centre of an extraordinary alliance between utilities, private water companies, business groups and environmental organisations. Proponents contend that the project offers an affordable and secure source of potable water that solves the City’s longstanding wastewater discharge problems and reduces the region’s reliance on ecologically damaging long-distance water transfers. This paper argues that the construction of wastewater as a resource through multi-benefit environmental governance, is consistent with emerging economic imperatives to internalise externalities and govern the nexus between resources as a new frontier of accumulation.
KraalD: plastic re-use strategy
Katarina Dimitrijevic (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
We live in a plastic debris era. Anthropogenic litter is present in all marine habitats, from the coast to the most remote points in the oceans. Unmanaged, discarded globally, eight million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year (Jambeck et al., 2010). This already outdated statistic on the rise, accumulates the same amount of plastic, that the entire world produced in 1961. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025 (Jambeck et al., 2015). KraalD is a design praxis, embedded in a social narrative which strives to journey beyond the product design vocabulary, exploding the design advocacy framework within socio-cultural, environmental and critical discard topics. The praxis argues that a “changing relation to disposal is a changing relation to oneself.” (Hawkins, 2006) Taking on climate change through our everyday plastic litter. Thus, praxis aim is to promote the minimization of future urban landfill, nurturing a socially relational and eco-centric attitude. This paper suggests to examine self-led, design case study i.e. KraalD and visually narrate plastic re-use strategy in order to change value for the plastic waste. How can we individually transgress the surplus-driven consumer culture? Perhaps in taking on the seemingly valueless discarded plastic. In transposing plastic things into plastic soup, 3D Gyra installations and re-used products. We can reveal how disposed plastic materiality can contain a dimension for new spaces of possibility, creating new values and even hope for a global 21st century depollution.
Co-designing waste solutions with local communities
Aiduan Borrion (University College London, UK)
Sarah Bell (University College London, UK)
’Engineering Comes Home’ turns infrastructure design on its head. The project starts with household needs and looks outward to design technologies and infrastructure, not the other way around. It aims to put people and their everyday needs and desires first, acknowledging complex patterns of resource consumption in households that arise from interactions with socio-technical systems.
The project works with a case study community of social housing residents in London and aims to develop a prototype design toolkit of potential technical options for meeting household needs and their lifecycle resource and environmental impacts.
The paper presents the importance of community engagement in infrastructure design (e.g. waste services) and how the project engages with the local communities in co-designing waste solutions. As part of the co-design process, an open source LCA calculator (figure1) has been developed to facilitate the community engagement. The design of the LCA Calculator tool introduces community members in an accessible and easy-to-use manner to concepts important in circular economy and systems thinking necessary for the design of waste solutions.
The LCA Calculator was successfully tested at a community workshop, enabling clear engagement between design choices of waste solutions and resource and environmental impacts. The paper demonstrates how solutions of treating waste as a resource can be co-designed with local communities with a bottom up approach.
Waste Treatment for Resource Recovery: Multiple Configurations and Scalings
Les Levidow (The Open University, UK)
Under pressure of EU targets, the UK’s waste-management measures have sought to increase recycling and reduce landfill disposal, while also increasing renewable energy to reduce GHG emissions in the Kyoto framework. Through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) from 2006 onwards, a Waste Infrastructure Delivery Programme (WIDP) subsidised Local Authorities to privatise the waste-management system by creating markets for long-term waste-management contracts and new treatment technologies, in parallel with financial incentives from landfill taxes and other penalties. In this way, an ecological modernisation (EM) framework underlay the New Labour government’s market-based instruments for linking environmental protection, renewable energy and technoscientific development. Within the PFI-WIDP programme, Mechanical and Biological Treatment (MBT) became an attractive techno-fix for several political problems – avoiding protest against local incinerators, fulfilling legal requirements to reduce landfill burdens, minimising costs, etc. In arranging long-term contracts with waste-management companies, Local Authorities faced judgements about configuring MBT plants – between either biostabilising the residual MSW for a compost-like output (CLO) versus producing RDF for incinerators somewhere. They also faced trade-offs in choices between a costly design flexibly accommodating heterogeneous changing waste composition, or else a cheaper more rigid design. When advocating MBT plants a decade ago, environmental groups had sought to strengthen the responsibility of Local Authorities for bringing waste up the hierarchy. In more recent designs, responsibility is shifted to waste-management companies but becomes blurred in practice, especially when MBT plants have operational problems. Multiple options illustrate how specific configurations have different scalings of responsibility as well as material flows.