Waste work in the sustainability economy: Transforming values of biological waste

Primary investigator: Professor Tora Holmberg (Uppsala University)

Collaborators: Professor Claes-Fredrik Helgesson (Uppsala University), Professor Malin Ideland (Malmö University)

Funding: Funded by the Swedish Research Council 2018-2020 (dnr. 2017-02142)

Project description: Waste, including bio-waste, inhabits a paradoxical position. On the one hand, due to problematic consumption practices, we throw away too much. On the other hand, “waste workers” transform these unwanted bi-products of consumption, into valuable goods: bio-fuel and other sources of energy, top soil, and fertilizers. Thus, in terms of biodegradable and combustible waste, we are sometimes facing a surplus and sometimes lack and for example, national and international trading in waste is becoming normalized. The current situation implies a conflict between value orders, and this project investigates how waste and values are produced and handled in practice by waste workers, focusing in particular on practical management and processes of transformations regarding non-household food waste and waste water. 

The aim of this project is to shed light on the structural paradoxes of waste management in the green economy by looking at the concrete practices of waste transformation. The project addresses the ways in which waste is handled from deposits to recycling and consumption and new deposits. By way of ethnography and interviews in 1) two Swedish cities, and 2) science and innovation projects in the green economy sector, the project uses the method of “trash-tracing”, following transformations of waste, work, and values. The project will deepen our understanding of the role of culture as well as market effects in the case of waste work.

Key words: Waste water, food waste, garbage, bio gas, deposit, fertilizer