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Geography and the matter of waste mobilities


It is the case that ‘all societies both throw things away and abandon them’ (Gregson et al. 2007a, 697). Such divestment does not mean that those things, commonly called waste, cease to exist rather it often marks the beginning of relocation and rematerialisation processes which are conducted at varying scales, from the molecular to the international over different time periods, and with varying amounts of human intervention and environmental impact. These things called waste are moved, with different degrees of design and legality, from place to place (and sometimes back again) and their constituent parts deconstructed, reconstructed and transformed, intentionally or otherwise, altering physical states and levels of toxicity; essentially waste has multiple mobilities. At one level these material functionalities of waste’s evolving trajectories are well known, if not well managed, resulting in manifold conflicts in communities particularly over the siting of waste management facilities such as landfills and incinerators. However much of this work has tended to treat waste as rather fixed in its state and location. I argue in this short essay that there is a growing body of research that is directly, and more helpfully, engaging with elements of waste’s mobilities and much of this is intensely geographical in its configuration. Importantly, in this context, the emergent research is replete with boundary crossing activity not least in literal terms of identifying the dynamic spatial [re]distribution of wastes (in toto or by its constituent parts) across political and administrative constituencies. It also demands broader interdisciplinary interaction between those engaging with waste in the fields of science, governance and engineering. In addition, however, I suggest that this research could be enriched by extending the realm of analysis beyond mobilities of waste matter past and present to consider how proposed development trajectories, such as governmental calls to move towards a green, smart, low carbon economy (Forfás 2009; Department of Energy and Climate Change 2010), will contribute to the dynamics of waste in the future.

Suggested citation:

. () Geography and the matter of waste mobilities [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 20th June 2019].


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