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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Citizens' waste sorting: it is also always about everything else

The necessary transition to a low-emission society entails minimal incineration of waste. This necessitates that citizens sort better and more. When attempting to provide an understanding of how to improve citizens’ sorting the literature reveals that we have tended to approach this matter as a bi-lateral relationship between citizen and bin in which her waste should go. In the human-centered studies this means that we have typically asked people how adjustments to bin design, placement, pic-up schedule, information etc. might make sorting easier and more convenient. This poster, nevertheless, argues that the experience of sorting cannot be understood nor improved as practice relating primarily to the bin and hence studied in isolation from all those other things and practices that comprise our everyday life: Doing laundry, browsing social media, helping kids with their homework, hosting friends for dinner, replying to work emails, discussing the logistics for the coming week with our partner, thinking of our next holiday etc etc. Practice theory teaches us, that the experience of inconvenience or ease in relation to one specific practice - such as sorting - need not pertain to the practice in its own right. Instead, an experience of inconvenience or trouble may stem from the way this practice disturbs and disrupts that intricate flow of interwoven routines and habits that everyday life is organized for and by. This implies that instead of focusing exclusively on the relationship between citizen and bin, we need to enlarge the focus to include all those other things and practices that co-occur with waste production and disposal. Improving citizens’ sorting and the experience hereof, thus come into view as a matter of not only of finding the best fit between citizen and bin, but moreover how these fit with how everything else is fitted together in the dynamic coordination of everyday life. Practice theory provides a perspective with special attention to how routines and practices are shaped in a complex interplay with both other practices, physical-material objects, social relations and cultural meanings. The poster will introduce the practice theoretical methodology along with the concrete research questions. At this outset, conference participants are invited to actively engage in reflections on the challenges and potentials related to employing such an expansive approach to the study of citizens’ sorting of household waste: what manifold foci might it effect? how do we compile the insights gained? and in what way can they be made applicable?

Lina Katan
Aalborg University Copenhagen


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