JACS 2013: The Future of Waste
March 1-2, The Illini Union, 314 A
o JACS 2013 Program
Though we don’t know how much waste the world produces exactly, we know that the average per capita waste generation in the most developed countries is close to 880 pounds annually, and we also know that we produce more and more every year. According to our keynote speaker, Martin Medina, 15 million people on Earth find their livelihoods by scavenging. In the U.S. though we waste 30-50% of our food, we also have more people who recycle than vote. Furthermore, we have seen the biggest wave of social movements since the civil rights era in what is now called the environmental justice movement that emerged from and still primarily concentrates on resisting toxic waste dumps and incinerators. In the most developed countries there are more and more magazines, articles, and TV shows dedicated to instructing people how to decide what is superfluous in their homes, how to reuse some of those things and how to dispose of others. Online auctions however also made it easier for people to purchase others’ unwanted objects, and hoarding or disposaphobia, a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder have been on the rise. At the same time we have also witnessed in the global North new life style movements and new definitions of political anarchism by “freegans” and “guerilla gardeners,” who make good use of and even their livelihood from unwanted goods and pieces of land. These are just a few of the many similar developments that suggest that waste has developed into a new socially generative force both in the North and the South.
Scholars, activists, policy-makers, and practitioners have responded to this new centrality of waste in our lives differently. The last ten years have witnessed a series of new technologies that not only aim at reducing or reusing waste but also at preventing the generation of certain wastes. These innovations include new logistical distribution networks to make food and energy distribution more efficient and flexible, as well as a host of new biodegradable materials and non-fossil sources of energy. Parallel with this interest in engineering and design we have also seen a bourgeoning of waste scholarship in the social sciences and the humanities that help us understand what culture and social inequalities have to do with our waste problems. Finally, economists and policy-makers have focused on how to attach a price tag to nature and how to reorganize the micro-level incentives in industry and agriculture to make them less wasteful or more willing to recover still useable materials from their by-products.
This conference will provide an overview of some of these developments by sharing research findings as well as experiences gained from policy-making and activism from all over the world: we will learn about scavengers in Africa, South America and China; recycling work in the European Union, freegans in New York City; the global regulation of nuclear waste disposal; sewage recycling in US cities; unwanted produce left on our farms and gathering mold in fridges; the effect of commodification on Mayan concepts of food waste in Belize; waste bloggers in cyberspace; and many other fascinating cases and locations of new and old waste practices. In addition to hearing from a wide variety of disciplines and arenas of practice, we will also screen two award-winning documentaries that trace the lives of scavengers in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Cairo, Egypt, both raising thought-provoking questions about consumerism and about how people on the margins of society end up living with and living off of trash. Finally, to ensure that the conference is not simply a series of monologues, we will hold a roundtable debate on the origins of and solutions to one of the most pressing waste issues of our time, food waste and postharvest loss.