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While headlines focus on pandemics and public health inequalities, the slower-burning environmental crisis 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. Since 2015, Scotland has produced 2.4-2.5 million tonnes of household waste each year and although the fraction that is recycled has increased, the increase has been marginal (from 41.1 to 44.7%). In order to further decrease waste going to landfill, 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 re-use and re-purposing.
Waste Stories is a project that will use 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 two key findings from our previous research on the Data Commons Scotland project The first is the inadequacy of quantitative data alone, and the potential of turning to story-telling approaches to (as one of our interviewees put it) better “tug at the heart strings.” The second is difficulties with public education campaigns that focus on recycling, rather than on reduction, re-use, re-purposing and reclamation.
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 proposed 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.