Being in the US (nothing against the US) during the holidays always makes me think of waste. I think of the over-consumption and the loads of rubbish the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the past, and more so recently, I have developed an acute fascination with the concept of Waste. Where does it go? How much do we produce? How can we reduce it? And, How can we reuse it? Between a few of my favourite contemporary mixed media artists and several documentarians this fascination warranted a few posts. Hence, this will be the beginning of a series of posts I wish to blog about on the notion of "Waste" and how this has not only consumed us, but has changed the lives of many--for the better and the worse. 
A few months ago, I blogged about my UN assignment in Suriname (a small South American country to the east of my Homeland). In particular I eluded to the waste management system in the small Maroon transmigration town of Klaaskreek in Brokopondo, where I was greeted by two young men at the back of a white pick-up truck who came to collect our rubbish. Moving forward a few months ahead, there seems to be more and more Waste-related seminars and documentaries that are begging for my attention. Not to mention the multitude of publications, such as the World Bank's recent publication (released March 2012) entitled What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, which highlights the growth of municipal solid waste--one of the most important by-products of an urban lifestyle--which, at 1.3 billion tonnes today, is expected to increase to 2.2 billion tonnes per annum in 2025. That’s enough garbage to fill the Roman Coliseum 730 times, or a line of garbage trucks 900,000 km long, 23 times around the world. And this is just solid waste alone.

A worker sorts used plastic bottles at a recycling center in Mumbai, India. VOA

Let's not even start with run offs and spills, much like the recent Greenpeace report on the textile industry's role in polluting waterways, entitled Toxic Threads: Under Wraps. Yet, there are countless initiatives to help us deal with this growing pressure our waste is putting on our environments. For one, I recently attended a talk at the Inter-American Development Bank on the Informal Waste Management Sector in Brasil. In particular the Informal Recycling Industry in the form of Sebastião dos Santos, the protagonist for the Oscar-nominated documentary "Waste Land" and a charismatic community organizer who defends the interests of poor Brazilian garbage recyclers in the world’s largest landfill of Jardim Gramacho. This was part of the IDB's Regional Initiative for Inclusive Recycling, led by IDB’s Water and Sanitation Division, the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), The Coca-Cola Company and AVINA, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,which is the first Latin American program to integrate waste collectors into the formal recycling market. And on the topic of Recycling, there is the issue of recycling in the developing world, where not enough infrastructure is in place (as yet) to manage the reusable waste. 
Growing up, we used glass bottles for soda/fizzy drinks like Coca-Cola, 7UP, and ICE-E (my Guyanese people know what I'm referring to in the latter), where in order to get a discount you would trade in your old glass bottles for a fresh new bottle of fizzy-drinks. Today, the avenues and highways are littered with plastic bottles leaving one to continuously live nostalgically. So where does this leave us (or me in my soliloquy)? 
There are so many issues when it comes to waste, but not too many answers as to how we could manage with it all. I guess it comes down to the fact that we all need to chip in. At the same time one's ability to do one's part in waste management also depends on one's society, social status and economic status. As documented in the World Bank Report, Low Income households struggle when it comes to a variety of waste management activities, such as Source Reduction, Collection, Recycling, Composting (almost non-existent), and the list goes on. In a way, I wish to educate myself on the global waste management issues and initiatives. I find them fascinating, especially as someone who has been exposed to the World of Waste within the fashion industry--in Kenya I saw containers upon containers of discarded clothes all from the developed world--and how recycling through thrifting, Charity Shops, Vintage Boutiques, and Consignment Stores has made many of us rethink our consumption habits. To what extent? That is another question, and post.
I conclude with the ESRC's The Waste of the World Programme, and its philosophy that we need to think of "waste as an ever-present potential; as an intrinsic part of all economic activity. Thinking about waste in this way leads to thinking about economies in terms of materials transformations and flows of materials. Rather than focus on the production (and consumption) of pre-determined commodities, our emphasis is on the materialisation of commodities, i.e. the processes of their coming together and dissolution in materials. Social science understandings of waste are also typically national-specific. In a world in which global markets in wastes are increasingly apparent and controversial this will no longer suffice". This is materialised in my upcoming posts on Waste. From artforms to start-up businesses to larger transnational corporations, Waste is intrinsic to the way in which we relate to our global economies (whether we realise it or not), and it will be the only topic we will smell if we don't address it immediately.

You Might Also Like


  1. Fascinating! "1.3 billion tonnes today, is expected to increase to 2.2 billion tonnes per annum in 2025. That’s enough garbage to fill the Roman Coliseum 730 times, or a line of garbage trucks 900,000 km long, 23 times around the world. And this is just solid waste alone." These are some scary facts? What is being done to reduce this?