Reusing, Recycling and Reimagining Waste

‘Making Waste’ addresses the everyday material practices that are changing how we understand waste—as a concept, as an object and as a dynamic process of circulation, transformation and revalorization. It focuses on the urban infrastructures that were designed to eliminate waste in the name of modernity and progress but which are now in crisis, along with the households that are experimenting with waste management and sustainability in new and surprising ways.

Waste is commonly understood as the end product of how we live — worthless, redundant, unwanted and abandoned when productive activity has been completed. In Sydney and elsewhere, however, new modes of valuing discarded objects, second-hand goods and underused city spaces have appeared. Through these processes of reusing, recycling and repurposing, waste has begun to take on a newly valorised and important place in the city, departing from official sanitation schemes and waste management strategies aimed to address or make invisible the abject in waste.

A range of cultural phenomena, including food sharing, dumpster diving, garage sales, clothing reuse, domestic food production, chicken-keeping and water and waste recycling, illustrate that waste is never static but rather is something that is constantly formed and transformed—made and remade, in other words—within the conduits of production and consumption. Through such material practices, waste is not only revalorised but also becomes entangled in the formation of new identities, pleasures and everyday politics.

The foundations of this research project come from a two-year project, led by Fiona Allon, ‘Waste Matters: Cultural Studies of Waste and the City’ and the two-day workshop ‘Making Waste: Reuse, Repurpose and Reduce?’ with Ruth Barcan and Karma Chahine.