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  • Author or Editor: Myra J. Hird x
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Is it possible to tackle waste by recycling, reusing and reducing consumption on an individual level alone?

This provocative book critically analyses the widespread narrative around waste as a ‘household’ issue.

Expert scholar Myra J. Hird uncovers neoliberal capitalism’s fallacy of infinite growth as the real culprit and shows how industry and local governments work in tandem to deflect attention away from the real causes of our global waste crisis.

Hird offers crucial insights on the relations between waste and wider societal issues such as poverty, racism, sexism, Indigeneity, decolonisation and social justice, showcasing how sociology can contribute to a ‘public imagination’ of waste.

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Chapter 2 focuses on how waste becomes (or does not become) a public issue. Through a number of direct examples, this chapter shows that waste does not (necessarily or even most often) present itself as a self-evident problem. Indeed, it takes work to transform waste from a material object into a public issue and sustain public interest.

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Chapter 3 focuses on waste’s diversion (recycling) as an industrial profit-making enterprise. While reduction (reduced consumption) is consistently touted as diversion’s primary goal, it is recycling (and to some extent re-use) that most represents our global (downstream) response to waste production. Chapter 3 provides a comprehensive examination of diversion practices and their limitations, and provocatively argues that industry and local governments work in tandem to deflect attention away from the upstream issue of limitless growth and consumption as foundational to neoliberal growth capitalism.

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This chapter focuses on plastics waste to illustrate how oil and gas companies as well as governments frame plastics as both a vital part of contemporary society and plastics waste as manageable through a combination of technological innovation and individual behavioural change. Drawing on research on plastics production and waste, this chapter demonstrates that industry both disguises the origin of plastics (that is, oil) and plans to increase oil extraction and production through the increased production of plastics. The chapter also demonstrates that claims that plastics waste may be effectively managed through recycling are entirely false.

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This chapter focuses on prepping as a particular response to the uncertainty of our species’ survival. Far from the experiences of millions of people who are forced into relentless adaptation due to unremitting poverty, inequality and global changes in climate, preppers largely plan for an imagined future by accumulating survivalist skills and things. That is, what most characterizes preppers is their mass consumption: preppers spend many thousands of dollars stockpiling resources like food, water and weaponry. Not only, then, do they eschew initiatives that seek to prevent an imagined future apocalypse but as we will show, preppers influence the very conditions that they then say they are forced to respond to as they intensify the hegemony of over-consumption. As such, this chapter demonstrates that the increasingly popular phenomenon of prepping is a contemporary reiteration of western consumer/trashing culture, which feeds the global capitalist system responsible for the very apocalyptic conditions to which preppers believe they are responding.

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This chapter pulls together the various analyses made throughout the book in order to distil how public sociology is currently engaging waste issues, and how it may powerfully intervene in future waste issues.

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Chapter 1 introduces readers to how different stakeholders (concerned and unconcerned citizens, politicians, scientists and engineers, industry representatives, community groups and so on) define and understand waste. Waste’s ontology and epistemology – what waste is and how we know what it is – profoundly influences how we respond to its material proclivities.

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