Wageningen Geography Lectures 2013-2014
Mike Crang, Durham University
Over the last thirty years wastes have increasingly moved globally. In response a well articulated argument for environmental justice has critiqued dumping wastes on poor communities and framed policy in terms of a polluter pays and proximity principle - that things should be disposed of as close to those who used them as possible. However, the trade in wastes has grown. Sometimes illegally, sometimes legally.
The third largest export from the USA to China is scrap, ahead of computer materials. The largest export by volume is used cardboard and paper. And that makes sense - China has a huge demand for used card to make into new boxes that will encase new commodities that will be sold back to the USA. Meanwhile, an alternative discourse on waste has argued we need to see it as a potential resource, reusing materials instead of using up new resources. This is closed-loop or cradle-to-cradle economic thinking. But there is a question whether that goal of closed loop manufacturing, where wastes are turned into resources, is bets seen in terms of local reuse or through such global trades. And whether such closed loop while green, is always clean. This paper examines then how moving materials can revalorise them, or devalorise them, on arguments over seeing the economy in terms of material and symbolic transformations and issues that some things may not be seen as shut out of the economy but recirculated.