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Re-thinking Waste

It is women who handle waste –

Unwanted, unnecessary, useless and discarding material were some of the words the RWA members who are participating the Feminist School in Lesotho, used to describe “waste”.   According to Suzall Timm, the facilitator of the session on waste – the words used to describe waste are all related to how we view “waste”.

Waste is central to how we produce and how we consume. The present system of development and capitalism produces tons of waste.  Waste is tied to consumption. Waste is an outcome of the method of production and overproduction, it is often linked to profit making. In the Global North the levels of use are extremely high.  Today, a large percentage of the waste is also associated with packaging. Today everything is “packaged” in plastic wrapping.  We are made to believe that a “fancy, glossy” package is equal to “quality”.

Waste is at the interface between the future and the past. Waste management is a big issue. Waste is not only from food but also from mining (tailings) and also from oil drills, nuclear energy etc. All this industrial waste contaminates the ocean, rivers, land and the atmosphere.  In Angola, along the coast one sees the impact of waste from oil industry spilling on the beaches.

The waste is dumped in poorer countries. In fact poor countries actually offer to store the waste of the industrialised for a price. But even more alarming is the fact that waste management is the responsibility of the local municipality. This implies that corporations have externalised waste. It is our taxes that are used to manage waste.

Waste goes to landfill sites, goes into the rivers, the ocean, the atmosphere and land. Landfill sites are used for storing waste.  This implies that a land -fill site is a man-made mountain. These landfill sites are real health hazards. Not only do they give off harmful gases such as methane that contribute to high carbon emissions, they are also usually close to the poor neighbourhoods and townships.

According to Donna Andrews, the facilitator – when we rethink waste we have to connect waste to the capitalist and industrialised system. There is a lot of production, but often production is for the wealthy. It is also the wealthy that produce more waste. In poorer households we recycle and reuse all the time e.g. we reuse containers etc. For example, earlier in the presentation it was highlighted that 96% of the food waste in South Africa happens at pre-consumption level. This means that even before it gets to the shop or your mouth it is thrown away. Monocropping from improved seed varieties results in excessive production of food – so it is not only storage, transport etc that are the main factors of food waste, but producing excess is the aim of the industrial agricultural system.

The notion of waste is also connected to modernity – specifically what it means to be modern. For example, when we shop we prefer nice packaging and it is this that fills up the landfills. It is also related to convenience, all the things that we think are modern are fast and efficient. We learn to consume and the idea of choice is constantly imposed, particularly the individual who has money wants choice. We are taught to aspire to things.






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