The latest report from the UN’s Environmental Program is predicting that our global urban waste production, estimated at between 7 and 10 billion tonnes a year, is set to double over the next two decades, largely because of continuing population growth and urbanisation in the world’s developing nations.
There is an increasing awareness that we need to look beyond relying on ‘end of pipe’ solutions to whole of system changes, including a transformation of design, production and consumption. This will involve moving away from today’s ‘make, use and trash’ economy towards a ‘Circular Economy’, that is,
“Restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles” (Ellen Macarthur Foundation).
The event was a one-day gathering with researchers from international perspectives discussing the the global waste crisis and what can be done about it.
Hosted by the School of Art, Architecture and Design and The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, University of South Australia .
Futures of Waste 2016, Exhibition: Photographic Perspectives
The photographs here have been chosen to show this ‘silent’ global problem at all scales, and across many different locations, mostly from our own region. From micro-plastics ingested by plankton, brightly coloured plastic fragments eaten by young seabirds, to the waste mountains created near every city and town across our region, the wastes seen here symbolise our linear ‘make, use and trash’ economy.
While some of these photographs document the environmental destruction created by our waste-making, others focus on the millions of poor people who now make a living from waste-picking and ‘informal’ recycling around the world. This hard life reminds us that waste is not only a form of pollution, but also a source of resources we have failed to use. In fact we now treat waste in ignorance and through established habit as ‘value-less’.
In these photographs we are reminded that waste is an enduring part of the human story, and that it is through waste as well as through pollution that we are now transforming the world through Climate Change. However, these photographs also remind us that there are solutions, in repair, remaking and recycling, in what is now called ‘Circular Economy’, an economy that brings these ‘3 Rs’ from the margins to the centre of our economic life.
The Exhibition was co-presented by The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, UniSA and Green Industries SA.
An exhibition catalogue of selected images and short essays was also available.
Waste-creation in our consumer society begins by devaluing what has been, or is still being, possessed or used. The value once associated with ‘owning’ some object or service is withdrawn, for a variety of reasons, often influenced by marketing or social competition, and then attributed perhaps to something else. Re-valuing waste will be fundamental in a circular economy.
Barriers to prematurely discarding or replacing goods have steadily fallen in recent years. Easy credit, low prices, instant online access to goods and services, continuous technological change and a 24 hour promotional media, all reinforce the ‘state of mind and way of life’ we now call global consumerism.
While much effort has gone into researching and implementing successful technical strategies for reducing waste and emissions through greater efficiencies in many domains, accelerating rates of consumption are undermining the positive impact of these efforts everywhere. While mainstream economists, corporations and governments may fear the consequences of a ‘slow down’ in our hyper-consumption, others have begun to look for different ways to change behaviour and reduce over-consumption and waste.