Sustainable Waste Systems and Practices

The challenge of managing and reducing domestic waste is a growing sustainability problem for governments and Local Authorities. This project investigates the inter-relationships between domestic waste systems, everyday social practices, and householders’ waste reduction and recycling activities. It will make a major contribution to reconceptualising domestic waste activities and thus help to design and implement more successful waste management schemes.

Specific research objectives may include: to define and map domestic waste systems and practices; to investigate how and why different socio-demographic groups demonstrate different levels of competency and confidence in recycling and waste reduction activities; to help design and evaluate Local Authority-led initiatives to improve waste reduction and recycling (eg food waste reduction; improving recycling rates and reducing contamination; trialling measures to increase participation in food waste collections).

The studentship is co-funded by Norfolk County Council and benefits from access to extensive, detailed historical data (including round-by-round GIS maps) on household waste collection and recycling contamination in Norwich. The project may involve working with grassroots community groups, social enterprises and businesses alongside the Local Authority schemes.

The project is situated in the 3S Research Group, and will draw on conceptual frameworks such as sociotechnical systems, social practice theory and the everyday ethics of waste  (eg Hargreaves et al, 2013; Evans 2012; Seyfang, 2009; Seyfang and Smith, 2007; Hawkins 2006).

This project has is exploring the scope and potential for commons-based initiatives to reduce waste generation.

The first part of the project has examined the Community Waste Movement in the UK:

Sharing, caring, repairing: exploring the successes and challenges of the Community Waste Movement

In seemingly dark times of climate change threats, global plastic pollution and looming mountains of garbage, the idea of alternative organisation can become a beacon of hope to guide us in our resistance as well as our everyday lives. One way to organise differently comes to us through the concept of the commons. This has in the past decade seen a renewal in the form of commoning – from being mostly concerned with forests and lakes, it is now often understood as also including the practices and social relations regarding cooperation around and sharing of (almost) anything, from time to things, from knowledge to waste. This research project set out to investigate the ‘Community Waste Movement’ in the UK, a movement that consists of community groups and organisations who take action on waste and waste prevention using various methods and tools, such as repair cafes, sharing libraries, innovative litter-picks and greening of shared space, reuse hubs and much more. An online survey targeting this movement explored its characteristics, scope, successes and challenges, while also probing for any traces of alternative organisation and commoning. The survey data is thematically analysed and studied from two important commoning principles: alternative ownership and non-commodification. The results indicate a struggling, yet very much alive organism, which is passionate about people, planet, and changing the way we organise our ownerships, practices, and communities. Finally, the implications of this research for sustainability are discussed, as well as future research plans.


Sara Skarp


Gill Seyfang

Tom Hargreaves

Joel Hull (Norfolk County Council)


3S strands:

transitions to sustainability

unsplashsustainable consumption