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Waste: (of a material, substance, or by-product) eliminated or discarded as no longer useful or required after the completion of a process.
From plastics to food to carbon emissions, the global economy generates vast quantities and diverse forms of waste. Much of this accumulates in the ocean, land, atmosphere, as well as in human and non-human bodies. Microplastics circulate in the depths of the oceans and the cells of microorganisms; residues of radioactive material released in the 1950s lace the surface of the planet; smog produced from rapidly expanding cities slowly kills millions of people every day; vast shipping containers that canít compete with larger, faster ships, end up on the shores of Bangladesh to be taken apart by shipbreakers. This is the Anthropocene, a purportedly new geological epoch demarcated by the planetary effects of human activity.
While waste may be everywhere it does not affect everyone equally. As the long history of environmental (in)justice attests, the risks and burdens associated with toxic pollution and waste disposal are disproportionately experienced by racial minorities, workers, the poor, indigenous, and the Global South. Drawing on the critical traditions of discard studies, political ecology, and science and technology studies, this module will provide students with a critical understanding of waste, its uneven geographies, and its intimate connections with broader political and economic systems. The course will examine: the economics of waste and the waste economy; the role of scientific expertise, including citizen science, in the classification and management of waste and pollution; and the ethical and political challenges that contemporary society faces in a context of unprecedented quantities and qualities of waste.