“Litter is the gateway to all good things”: small-scale methods for (more) sustainable waste futures

Sara Skarp (3S Research Group, UEA)

3S Seminar, 17th March, 16:00-17:00 BST on MS Teams (please email Mandy Harmer <Amanda.Hamer@uea.ac.uk> if you would like to attend, an invite will be sent the day before the seminar).

Being a somewhat yucky topic, waste is increasingly making us aware of its presence – whether it’s images of turtles caught in plastic bags or the packaging from the growing amounts of Amazon deliveries, the useless and potentially dangerous materials we create are seemingly growing in number, size and complexity. Despite efforts (of varying degree) from state and market, such as behaviour change campaigns, building bigger and better incineration plants, exporting rubbish to majority world countries, and selling zero waste lifestyles through keep-cups and tote bags, waste arisings have continuously grown over the past 70 years. These efforts have thus arguably failed, and as such, a new approach is called for.

This presentation will report on part of the findings from my PhD research, specifically how local, small-scale projects, which are often dismissed as cute and tokenistic, actually do have potential and how they can play a role in the way we organise and imagine our future waste systems. In my research, I performed in-depth case studies, featuring a reuse hub, a litter-picking group, and a thing library, and applied a commons framework where I specifically look for features that can be considered alternative. This alterity is nuanced through attention to the challenges that are presented by working against the grain as well as the strength of plurality. I show that each project that is studied deploys a range of methods that hold potential not only for immediate waste reduction, but also for creating other ways of living and organising waste and material for a (more) sustainable future.