While headlines focus on war, the cost-of-living crisis and pandemics, the slower-burning crises caused by human impact on the environment continues. The volume of waste we produce and the ways we dispose of it have a significant impact on both local and global environments, through direct pollution and energy used in transport and processing. In Scotland, despite policy efforts, there is still a long way to go. According to SEPA, Since 2015, Scotland has produced 2.4-2.5 million tonnes of household waste each year and the fraction being recycled has hovered around 43%, with no clear upward trend. The amount of domestic waste going to landfill has decreased, but largely because more has been incinerated. If we look at the figures for all waste – not just household waste – there has been a slow but steady increase in the volume being recycled, but the total volume remains high (11.45 million tonnes for 2018, the last year statistics are currently available) and the amount going to landfill or being incinerated has stayed between 4.6 and 5 million tonnes each year. In order to further decrease waste that does get not used productively, and to reduce the energy costs associated with recycling, more needs to be done to reduce waste in the first place – a change that relies on increasing and innovating rejection, reduction, re-use and re-purposing.
Waste Stories is a project that uses the affective power of story-telling to try to change people’s relationships with waste and the resources that end up in the waste stream. We have been inspired to do this because of key findings from our previous research on the Data Commons Scotland project and the Data Stories project. Data Commons Scotland demonstrated the inadequacy of quantitative data alone to persuade people of the need for changes that might restructure our lives rather than tinker at the edges. It also highlight difficulties with public education campaigns that focus on recycling, rather than on rejection and reduction as priorities along with reclamation, re-use and re-purposing. Data Stories showed how fiction – and particularly participatory speculative fiction – can help us reconfigure the present to imagine alternative futures.
Waste Stories recognizes the power of story-telling, and fiction and poetry in particular, to elicit strong emotional as well as intellectual responses, and the importance of the bodily/affective in turning such emotional responses into action. Our approach is influenced by sociomaterial sensibilities that emphasise the interconnectedness of the material and the social. In particular, we conceptualize encounters with both waste objects and Waste Stories as assemblages in which knowledge and affect can flow in a learning process that seeks to empower rather than constrain or reproduce.
The Waste Stories team gratefully acknowledge the support provided by the Leverhulme Trust.