Research into urban waste management


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Waste, garbage, rubbish, junk, trash and the list of synonyms goes on... Waste is one of the most ambiguous concepts in our society. An inextricable part of our everyday lives, yet often ignored and even disgusted.

Our waste tells a lot about the society we live in, if you are only willing to have a look at it. Waste is something that changed a lot over the years. In the pre-industrial world, waste was mostly organic and thus part of a cycle in which the food supply was fueled by the waste it generated (Steel, 2008: 260). Nowadays, waste piles up around big cities and consists of many different kinds of materials that are definitely not all recyclable. Along with waste, waste-management also changed; when waste was still mostly organic there was no such thing as organized municipal waste-management. Only when the piles on the street grew too big a collective effort was made to get rid of it. This policy had its downsides, an example of which was the Great Stink that occurred in London in the summer of 1858: a combination of a garbage overload and extraordinarily warm weather that didn’t leave room for any squeamishness amongst London’s residents (Steel, 2008: 256).

During the last century and a half, extensive waste-management systems have been developed. In our present-day society we take waste-management for granted. In May 2010 there was a big strike in Amsterdam from the municipal garbage department. For ten days there was no garbage collected, which created a total mess, especially in the city center (NRC next, 2010). The responses to this strike were mainly positive and it made the regular amount of garbage produced in a city like Amsterdam suddenly visible to anyone. The relationship between waste management and urban development is as invisible as important; this is the reason why CITIES is exploring this new field of research.

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