Waste and Sustainability by Tsai-Shiou Hsieh

While ‘waste’ is hardly a new issue, one cannot overlook the continuously growing volume of waste and how it impedes ecological, economic, and social sustainability. This reading list hopes to provide a multi-disciplinary perspective and address a wide spectrum–from micro (individual and family) to macro (national and global) levels–of waste issues and solutions.  Researchers, policy makers, and activists can all benefit from the collection of varied sources (books, articles, films, and websites) regarding waste and sustainability issues.

 ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’- the idiom seems to suggest that what counts as waste varies between individuals, but it is also true that the definition of waste has evolved historically and differs among cultures. “Waste and Want” offers a great retrospective of the social-historical conception of human desire and waste (Strasser 1999). In parallel, images often provide a vivid and statement of similar perspective: “The Gleaners and I” and “Addicted to Plastic” are two revealing documentaries on the state of waste in modern society (Connacher 2008; Varda 2000). Waste and sustainability are examined diversely across disciplines: environmental psychology mostly focuses on attitudinal and behavioral aspects in small-scale (individual and family) waste elimination (Barr 2002; Dolnicar and Grün 2009) and sustainable lifestyle (Uzzell, Pol, and Badenas 2002). Geography and urban planning analyze waste issues in regional politics and social contexts (Gandy 1994; Luton 1997). There are also specific and impactful case studies that give insights into political and economic solutions, such as Germany’s Packing Ordinance that reduced considerable amount of packaging waste (Fishbein and Azimi 1994).

The readings also address possible solutions to waste. While recycling is considered as a common fix of waste issues, “Cradle to Cradle” provided an innovative viewpoint and possible solutions by re-thinking how things are made; they suggest upcycling to diminish waste issues and work towards a sustainable society (McDonough and Braungart 2010). Another radical solution is offered by a small anti-capitalism activists group: freegans: they use “waste reclamation” as a crucial part of their progressive social movement towards a sustainable society (Gross 2009; Ernst 2010).

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