Nail clippings, cut-off price tags, emptied plastics and coffee filters– the waste bin under my kitchen sink whispers a story of who I am and what I do. Trained to hide my daily excess, this collection is an embarrassing manifestation of how I live in the world. I seal its lid, cloaking the pungent smell of rotting waste and my accountability to its violence. Out of sight and out of mind, the expired items tousled up behind my cabinet cupboards are what Myra Hird (2012) describes as material enactments of forgetting. Tucked below human sightlines and transported to peripheral spaces via garbage trucks, landfill operations and tug boat exportations, waste becomes “an ironic testimonial to a desire to forget” (Hird, 2012, p. 455). Acts of forgetting are convenient ways in which humans ignore toxic materials that, regardless of our censure, continue to live in the world. Waste disposal is like playing a game of peek-a-boo with a young child, unseen behind small hands in a game of disappearance, but the hider still exists. Perhaps then, a pedagogy of remembering is a matter of object permanence.
Waste is not waiting for us to give it agency, it exists in an always-already worldly performance – folding and unfolding with multiple others, in places beyond human control. It trickles from punctured bags, stumbles across sidewalks and buries deep through underground pathways. Acts of remembering invite onto-epistemologies of waste as materials existing in the world (onto-) which simultaneously inform how we come to know them (epistemology) – In this way, understandings of waste are not separate from, but intimately connected in relentless, and lively, human/waste relations. What does it look like to remember lively relations with waste? Acts of remembering might demand an uncomfortable attunement to things that have been disregarded as invaluable. How embarrassing it might be to expose all that we have discarded, and place it in plain view. What fingers might be pointed, at whom, for what disgusting things we find? Are any of us exempt? What might happen if we invite children to take up these discomforts in educational spaces? Exposed in public view, waste calls us out on our shortcomings. It names us as “latecomers to life’s already long-established flourishing and failing within a volatile landscape” (Hird, 2012, p. 464). Acts of remembering invite us to notice our vulnerabilities to waste as materials which continue to hold agency, before-during-and after our use. In positioning waste at the centre of our inquiries, what might we notice about our capacities to affect and be affected by waste? What past-present-future stories might human/waste memories begin to tell?
Hird, M. J. (2012). Knowing waste: Towards an inhuman epistemology, Social Epistemology, 26(3–4), 453–469.