Moving waste around: Unpacking how socio-political decisions are made about municipal solid waste and its transportation
environmental sociology , waste management , circular economy , environmental studies , waste transportation , case study research , Canadian waste management
This thesis uses waste transportation as a lens to understand how socio-political actors make decisions about waste, and more specifically, waste transportation and the mechanisms that are employed to achieve this end. As waste is transported from its point of generation to its place of disposal—which is very seldom a linear route—issues emerge around scale, perceived risks, governance, responsibilisation, and ideological (and often technological) alternatives. This dissertation seeks to address how waste transportation offers insight into how we relate to, problematize, divest, and generally understand complicated waste systems. I draw on the related concepts of waste governance, waste regimes and risk avoidance, and the circular economy to critically examine how networks of actors across scales maintain and facilitate long-distance waste transportation practices. Data come from interviews with 14 participants and critical document analyses of publicly available literature from municipal and provincial governments, waste management industries, and non-governmental environmental organizations. This dissertation is comprised of three core manuscripts. The first manuscript uses waste transportation as a lens through which to better understand how diversion becomes synonymous with recycling in Ontario as a mode of governance, which requires substantial waste transportation. The second manuscript situates waste transportation as a means of avoiding unacceptable risks in a waste regime that focuses on diversion. The third manuscript explores how moving to a legislated circular economy will have socio-political consequences while still requiring—or perhaps increasing—Ontario’s reliance on waste transportation. Taken together, I suggest that waste transportation is a site for understanding how decisions about how waste societies are made and maintained. In this view, waste can be regarded as a medium that creates new connections between people in otherwise unconnected places and influenced by different perceptions of waste materials and policy frameworks. Waste transportation represents the ultimate downstream technology that maintains the throwaway society while itself producing significant environmental impacts. In these ways, and with respect to how waste transportation has only recently become an issue, the dissertation contributes to the growing critical literature on waste transportation.