The Gallery of Lost Art is an online exhibition via the Tate Modern that explores the materiality, nature, biography and archive of missing works of art.The website explains:
Destroyed, stolen, rejected, erased, ephemeral. Some of the most significant artworks of the last 100 years have been lost, and can no longer be seen. Some artworks were thrown out by accident or lost through neglect or decay. Others were obliterated by war, acts of violence, or censorship, or were created to be temporary, lasting only a few years, months, or even minutes. Explore the records here, and discover how loss has silently shaped modern art history.
The website is divided into sections: Unrealized, Ephemeral, Rejected, Stolen, Discarded, Transient, Erased, Lost, Missing, Destroyed, Attacked. This list reads like an overview of major themes in discard studies. The differences between lost and missing, the place of violence and attack in loss of materials, and the difference between things intended to be ephemeral and those that are erased are all instructive for studies of socio-materiality central to discard studies. Using art, and in this case, often canonical art, as the subject of a discard study is particularly interesting because of the value placed upon these cultural objects. The unstated premise of the project is that the art discussed has inherent value, but that value is contested through the techniques of loss (emphemerality, rejection, discarded, attack…).
Sometimes, the technique of loss is not necessarily known:
The Gallery of Lost Art is full of such representations, where the materiality of the artwork in question has been shifted to a photograph, an arrangement of pixels, and textual descriptions, highlighting the techniques of scavenging, preservation, and circulation for these absent objects.
Thanks to Material World Blog for the lead.
Measurements are never mere faithful representations of nature, but have social and political origins and ramifications. In representational theory, measurement is ”the correlation of numbers with entities that are not numbers,” a process of transformation, translation, and even interpretation at the level of sampling and gathering data. What is selected for measurement and what is not, how measurements are standardized, what counts as an important unit of measure, and how measurements are used all have stakes for the systems of which they are part. This is as true in discard studies as it is other scientific and social scientific endeavors.
Per Capita waste measurements are a prime example. It is not uncommon to come across a statement like “Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world with 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg) of municipal solid waste (MSW) per person per day.” Per capita waste statistics are created by dividing the total weight of waste by the population of a given area, and give the impression that individuals are the main agents of waste. This both reinforces the popular myth that humans are inherently wasteful, and that waste in general is synonymous with post-consumer waste. Neither is true.
The vast majority of waste in the United States, and most developed countries, is industrial solid waste. It has more tonnage, and is more toxic, than municipal solid waste by a wide margin (MacBride). Per capita measurements of trash obfuscates the main agent of waste– even within municipal solid waste, which can contain commercial and construction & demolition waste, I would argue that waste is industrial rather than individual. Try not to make any waste for a week. It is nearly impossible, even for people like Beth Terry who dedicates massive amounts of time, energy, and research to reducing what she throws away. Her effort is heroic– not wasting is outside of everyday processes and possibilities because our food system, ability to clothe ourselves, communicate, and socialize come wrapped. Changes in per capita waste is often a measure of packaging trends rather than the (im)moral inclination to waste. As historians of waste know, disposability and waste is an industry tactic for saturating markets (see Vance Packard for a contemporary perspective on this strategy, which began in earnest in the 1930s).
Thus, per capita measurements, by interpolating individuals as agents of waste, politicizes measurement in the interest of industry by reproducing the myth of the wasteful human rather than calling out how humans in our society have become an inextricable part of a an industrial infrastructure of disposables and waste.
Previous Sewage Contamination (PSC) is a measure of waste that is self-consciously, willfully political. In the mid-nineteenth century, increased industrial activity and urbanization lead to the contamination of waterways used for public water supplies. Sewage, recently linked to several health epidemics, was of particular concern. Scientists were asked to determine whether a waterway was fit for consumption, but, in the professional opinion of Edward Frankland, a British water chemist for the Royal Institution, science was not always up to the task. Water analysis could not define the safety of water, chiefly because the presence and habits of germs, a new concept in the field, were largely unknown. Frankland believed germs could withstand filtration, chemical reagents, dilution, condensation, and other popular purification methods. Thus, even if a bacteriological test found no living germs in a sample, Frankland reasoned that a few germs may have survived purification and were just not present in the sample taken. These resilient germs could start an epidemic.
Thus, in 1867, Frankland introduced the concept of “previous sewage contamination,” or PSC, meant to represent the amount of sewage a river had received upstream. It was a number obtained by measuring the total amount of nitrogen compounds in a water sample, which in turn indicated the amount of organic material that had been in the water. This organic material could come from sewage or peat or other sources (science could not differentiate between them, and Frankland said the differentiation was “hygienically irrelevant”). PSC was meant to indicate whether there had ever been sewage in the water, and thus a potential health danger, regardless of whether the water had been purified.
In short, PSC was a metric used to advocate for a definition of safety that differed substantially from the status quo, which pushed for post-purification as the preferred technique of definition. Thus, PSC was an activist measurement. As a member of several Royal commissions on water quality, Frankland had the ability to instate PSC in water analysis reports received by Londoners. The idea was that citizens and other stakeholders would become disgusted, fearful, or enraged about the inevitable presence of “previous sewage contamination” in their water, and demand better water. Since PSC would be present in any purified source, as all local waterways were used as extensions of sewers and had other organic materials in them besides, “better water” would entail either changing the source of London’s water supply, or the legislated cessation of all sewage disposal into waterways. The latter was Frankland’s goal.
The reason to take measurements seriously is that quantitative work creates things. Per capita waste creates wasteful individuals and naturalizes an impotent course of action, while Previous Sewage Contamination creates pollution where before there was none. Activism is all about intervening in material conditions, and Franklin knew his judgement, expressed as a measurement, would be extrapolated off the page to make things happen in the world of things. Advocacy via measurement is not unique to activism–I would argue that per capita measurement is in the interest of industry, and it is not surprising to find that industry works to keep it as the measurement of choice in governance.
I believe that one of the unique abilities of scholars in the humanities and social sciences is to denaturalize such ontologies. Our job is to back up the truck and question the ground it stands on. In this case, we want to back construct the measurement to see where it came from and how the thing it purports to measure came to exist in the first place. This job is critical (in both senses of the term) because, as is evident from the examples, one of which is explicitly activist and the other which has high stakes for environmental action and blame, the quantification of characteristics into measurements has politics, and politics, to borrow Arjun Apparturi’s definition, is the set of relations, assumptions and contests pertaining to power.
Hamlin, Christopher. (1990) Edward Frankland: The Analyst as Activist
Law and Moser. (2006). Fluids or flows? Information and qualculation in medical practice
MacBride. (2012). Recycling Reconsidered
Star and Bowker. (1999). Sorting Things Out
On a sunny spring morning we walk the Arahama coast near Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region that experienced the March 2011 tsunami. Two years and a few days later, yellowed grass stands in cracked concrete outlines of houses, bathroom tiles still recognizable. A team of green-shirted volunteers is hard at work near the river, and in the distance, smoke rises from an incinerator built specifically for disaster debris. A telephone pole lays in the sand near the concrete seawall lining this stretch of beach; remains of a metal roof rest bent and twisted in damaged trees.
I never intended to study tsunami debris or write about disaster. But I began fieldwork following marine debris in spring 2011, and plastic paths have led me across the Pacific to Japan where I am honored to attend a series of tsunami debris forums organized by the Japan Environmental Action Network (JEAN). The events bring beach cleanup coordinators from Hawaii, Alaska and Oregon together with coordinators in Japan and with those closest to the tsunami with the aim of fostering understanding and collaboration across the Pacific. Like the other participants, I have considerable experience looking for plastic on the shore, but today I walk a beach that does not feel like any I have visited before.
The sand is windswept and free of footprints except for our own. Large debris has long since been cleaned up, but bits and fragments are scattered everywhere. Bottle caps. Broken glass. A cup half buried in the sand. Tattered scraps of wood and other building materials. These objects are at once familiar and strange, as mass produced and anonymous as items I have seen on other beaches, yet haunted by the conditions of their loss. Those who have careers cleaning up objects from beaches ask permission before touching anything. At the tide line I pause, staring down the horizon, thinking of California so many thousands of miles away yet connected by ocean currents and all kinds of crossings of people and things.
The communities that lived nearby have constructed a memorial site with Buddhist statue and dark wall inscribed with names of those lost. A slow but steady stream of visitors brings small offerings: bottles of tea, flowers, strings of paper cranes. Small waves break in the distance, and the ocean air is laced with incense. I gaze up at the statue, backlit with a halo of morning sun, and try to imagine the clear blue sky as a wall of black water. At seven meters (23 feet) tall, the statue is the same height as the largest wave that inundated this stretch of the coast. The material record echoes in the surrounding trees, stripped of branches and devoid of greenery to the same height.
As we walk inland, shards of roof tile and dishes crunch in the gravel underfoot. A box of dusty CDs is tucked in the corner of one house’s foundations, a fragment of a teacup, white with yellow flower pattern sits carefully perched on a ledge beside another. I imagine those cleaning up carefully placing these objects where they might be recognized. We approach the local elementary school, a designated community evacuation center. It flooded part way up the second floor and all those who sought shelter there were able to climb to safety in time. With the school surrounded by water, several hundred people spent a long cold night waiting to be evacuated by helicopter, three at a time. We are shown photos from inside the school, chalkboard lists of those accounted for, classrooms organized by community. The damaged gymnasium is about to be torn down, but the fate of the main building is at the center of a debate common to many other communities. While some people want the building kept as a memorial, others do not want such a tangible reminder. A bright white banner hanging from the third floor reads “thank you! dream hope future.”
At the afternoon forum in Sendia’s busy city center, the guest coordinators give presentations showing the arrival of debris in the US. Many presenters emphasize how marine debris problems far predate and will long outlast tsunami debris. But they also detail local efforts to clean beaches, and the care taken to ensure volunteers treat found objects with respect. A succession of audience members express their gratitude and the hope that items can be brought back to Japan, reunited with their owners. There is a strong sense that these objects still belong to someone, that they are ‘pieces of lives,’ one speaker even comparing them to human remains. Like many people in Japan, they do not want tsunami debris treated as or even called debris. Speaking instead of ‘lost things’ or ‘personal items,’ they separate with words what they hope people cleaning the beaches of Hawaii and the West Coast of North America can separate in practice.
Near the end of the event, a speaker points to a yellow fish crate on a table at the side of the room. Lost in the tsunami, it floated to Alaska where it was identified as tsunami material and brought back to Japan with hopes of finding its owner. Word has just come that the owner of a soccer ball that traveled a similar path has finally been located. Though these anecdotes are uplifting, for many in the audience everyday life still means temporary housing and a continued struggle with uncertain futures. While most land has long been cleared, the government is not allowing residential rebuilding near the shore. Many people do not know when and if ever they can go back to their communities. A hand-painted sign at the beach reads, “losing living from Arahama in Sendai is the same as losing history, culture, or even the same as losing our home.” Here ‘home’ is furusato, a Japanese word that carries the cultural politics of origins, linking local and national, nostalgia and future, lifestyle and landscape. Above, strands of yellow flags signal the hope of return.
By Kim DeWolff.
Do you study the history of defecation, exhalation, or other bodily wastes? Healthy Living in Pre-Modern Europe. The Theory and Practice of the Six Non-Naturals (c.1400-1700) Conference Venue: Institute of Historical Research, Bloomsbury, London. Conference Dates: 13-14 September 2013 This conference seeks to bring together scholars working on topics related to the role played by the six Non-Naturals in health maintenance in the late-medieval and early modern period. It is well-known that health was thought to depend on the regulation of the six key factors affecting body functions: the air one breathes, sleep, food and drink, evacuations, movement and emotions. In pre-modern medicine careful management of these spheres of life was regarded as crucial if one wished to prevent disease. Yet the study of the Non Naturals has been neglected, as scholars have focused on the development of the concept in medical thought rather than on the advice regarding the individual non-naturals. The only exception concerns the recommendations related to food and diet while the other Non-Naturals have been the object only of general surveys. Even less attention has been paid to the relationship between preventive advice and practice. This conference intends to address these gaps. Moreover we hope to stimulate discussions which will enable us to compare different regions and countries and to explore changing approaches to the Non-Naturals (and to the underpinning humoural principles) over the period under consideration. More specifically the conference aims to: -Compare the contents of medical advice about the Non-Naturals (how these activities should ideally be performed) and the actual practices associated with keeping healthy. What relationship did practices bear to prescription? In order to address these questions scholars might use a range of ‘extra-medical’ sources, such as letters, diaries, literature and imagery. -Explore change within the body of medical theory on the Non-Naturals. Were definitions of what was regarded as harmful or beneficial to health modified over the period? And is the idea of the body and its vulnerabilities that underpins these views subject to any transformations? It has widely been assumed that humoural theory was essentially static and unchanging during the early modern period. Is this view in need of revision? - Explore the extent to which both recommendations about healthy living and the preventive measures adopted in everyday life changed over time. And were these transformations medically or socially driven? In other words were they a consequence of shifting ideas about the working of the body or of changing lifestyles? - Stimulate comparisons between different regions and countries. For example, did the medical traditions in different countries place different emphases on the six Non-Naturals? Did they all conceptualise the humours in similar ways? Were there different lay approaches to keeping healthy in different national contexts? Did people focus on any particular Non-Naturals –giving more weight to diet, for example, or to taking exercise- in order to maintain their health? Papers will be 30 minutes long with discussants for groups of papers. Papers must be submitted at least two weeks before the conference to facilitate the work of the discussants. Please send an abstract of no more than 500 words by 24 March 2013 to the conference secretary, Tessa. Storey@rhul.ac.uk Please e-mail the Organisers with any questions: S.Cavallo@rhul.ac.uk and Tessa.firstname.lastname@example.org
Aliine Lotman (Anthro Dept, EHI, Tallinn University)
“Until the 19th century, the term ‘to consume’ was used mainly in its negative connotations of ‘destruction’ and ‘waste’. Tuberculosis was known as ‘consumption’, that is, a wasting disease. Then economists came up with a bizarre theory, which has become widely accepted, according to which the basis of a sound economy is a continual increase in the consumption (that is, waste) of goods” (Petr Skrabanek 1994: 29).
The activity of rummaging through rubbish for usable things is known by many names: dumpster diving, freeganism, skipping, recycling and so on. As the communities of people involved in this activity are not exactly homogenous, with a common ideology, it is not too certain where the different terms originate. Neverthess, I will denote here some of the connotations and ideas behind them.
Freeganism is often considered to be the most politically charged term in use. As the first known printed use of the word ‘freegan’ – the ‘Why Freegan? zine from the end of the 1990s – declares:
Freeganism is essentially an anti-consumerist ethic about eating; asking “why freegan?” is essentially asking “why not consumerism?” /…/ By not consuming, you are boycotting EVERYTHING! All the corporations, all the stores, all the pesticides, all the land and resources wasted, the capitalist system, the all-oppressive dollar, the wage slavery, the whole burrito! That should help you get to sleep at night (Oakes 1999: 3-4).
When the term freeganism is used, it is often in contrast to capitalism or about freeganism’s role in modifying it. The anarchist sociologist Jeff Shantz claims for example that freeganism is trying to evade capitalism by creating its own alternative economic system, inspired by Marcel Mauss’s conception of the gift economy (Shantz 2005). As such, the term might also be the most controversial one for being too strict to some and at the same too ambiguous to others (Gross 2009).(See also the Sydney doco Bin Appetit (YouTube 30March 2010).
Dumpster diving might be the most clear and easily graspable term for the outsider: ‘dumpster’ as the garbage bin or container where the items are retrieved from, and ‘diving’ as the activity necessary to reach deep into the vast containers filled with goods. Dumpster diving or ‘dumpstering’ are probably the most well known terms in an international context, whilst others might be perceived as more local terms.
Skipping and skip dipping share the connotations of dumpster diving and are the not as politically charged as freeganism. The difference seems to be geographical – ‘skip dipping’ is a term with clear Australian origin (Edwards & Mercer 2012) whilst ‘skipping’ is the term I heard from my informants who were either from Great Britain or had learned about skipping there.
The word most commonly used in Barcelona is recycling (reciclar) which has its congruous words in the languages spoken in the community. In Estonian, for example, the word is ‘recyclima’ [risaiklima]. It can be said to have the same meaning as ‘dumpster diving’. In this posting I mostly use this term, as it is the one my informants most commonly use.
Approaching the bins
A young man, we shall call him Mateo, yawns and stretches behind his laptop. It has been a tiring day of idleness. He does not work in the strict sense of the term. Today has been a usual day: he spent a number of hours planning tomorrow’s dinner, as friends are coming over and he would like to cook something nice. He then played with his roommate’s cat for some time and had something to eat. For a few hours he focused on the Wi-Fi problem – the neighbours’ router seemed to be giving a weaker signal, so a few other neighbouring networks had to be cracked. Now, as noted, he is stretching his back. Suddenly he glances at the clock – it is almost half past eight! He rises at once and walks into the kitchen, reaching for two large grocery bags from one of the drawers.
Mateo was born and raised in the outskirts of Barcelona, in a neighbourhood similar to where he lives now – houses built on hillsides, a cobweb of steep streets intertwined with innumerable staircases, a population of mostly working class Catalans and immigrants. His parents are too, as he says, working class people, trabajadores. From his childhood, he remembers dumpster diving as a shameful matter – a question of pride and poverty; even children wearing hand-downs from older siblings were bullied at school, not to even mention families who went picking through garbage. Mateo did not start recycling himself before ending up in Amsterdam after he was thrown out of the apartment he rented in Barcelona. Once he returned to Barcelona, he simply continued to go recycling as he had in Holland.
We are walking uphill as he tells me this story of becoming a recycler. We take a sharp left turn and he points straight ahead: “See? There’s Día”. Día is the shop that we are heading to; its red sign in the shape of a percentage symbol can not be seen from this angle. I immediately recognise the cashier’s red uniform as he steps out of the door of the shop, dragging behind him a full container of biological waste. We start moving faster, as Mateo tells me that the lady standing right next to the shop window is also a dumpster diver, and not the most generous kind. We reach the containers at the same time with the middle-aged lady (I later find out from a Polish squatter that the lady is Russian). The cashier has brought out two bin containers, one biological – with the brown lid – and the other – with the black lid – mixed. The three of us flip open the lids. Mateo and I like to think of ourselves as recyclers with a lot of solidarity (a catchword among the anarchist-punk-okupa scene) running through our veins, so naturally we share all our findings with the Russian lady, who then melts up and offers us some of her own. All in all the result of this 15-minute walk and talk are for us: six packs (500 grams each) of some yellow sweet fruit unbeknownst to me; a lot of red peppers; some salad; a huge amount of carrots; a broccoli; a big bag of onions; a zucchini; five small yoghurts; and two bottles of Actimel. We head home with a big smile, because being able to not pay for our food makes us radiate with joy.
A prelude on squatting - Background and finding access
All of the informants whose stories are embedded in my research are connected to the okupa scene of Barcelona. There are many, like Juan and Mateo, who are active and committed to the political side of the phenomenon. These are usually people who look for the best houses to squat and then take great care of the houses, keeping them clean and well hidden from enemy eyes. They are people who systematically take part of common events and help others when needed. Yet, some of my informants are not as political or as sustainable – spending most of their time sleeping, drinking, skate boarding and smoking pot. There is of course no general rule on the division of squatters, as it is a vibrant, heterogeneous and flexible community that resembles more a process than an entity. Yet it is safe to say that squatters with similar understandings of politics, activism and the okupa scene tend to live together in the same house, creating sub-communities that share the same worldview (Martínez 2007).
I had my first personal contact with food recycling in the summer of 2009 when I visited one of my best friends who at that time was living in Barcelona. Later, as my interest in food anthropology grew I decided to return to Barcelona and look deeper into this way of obtaining food that whilst considered more than normal (by being non-consumerist and thus more ethical) in some circles, is despised and frowned upon in other levels of the society. I intended to use my friend as a key informant who would grant me access to the circles, provide me with a place to live and show me where the best bins were.
Unfortunately during my fieldwork the friend of mine could not be in Barcelona herself, which at first seemed to make things difficult. Luckily for me, we kept a good connection and talked on the phone several times a week. I could say that this was a good thing for my fieldwork – I arrived to the field with no previous connections, personal contacts and relations that could interfere with my objectives, whilst at the same time my friend could still provide me with enough names and contacts from afar so that I could easily find a place to live and people to turn to during my first days in the field. Also, as a personal side note, without my friend’s mental support provided by a few phone calls a week, I am not sure if I could or would have been able to stay focused during my month in the field. As every anthropologist knows, the status of a would-be-anthropologist during their first time in the field is rather confusing, to say the least.
Although I had also intended to conduct interviews with non-squatter recyclers, it proved to be too time-consuming and difficult to form a trustworthy relationship with them once I had arrived in Barcelona. This was due to the lack of personal connections and shared spaces with non-squatter recyclers. The age group of my informants varies from 21 to approximately 33, with the majority in their late twenties. Most of my informants were either living or temporarily staying in one of the three squatted houses I had the most contact with. Only one of my main informants was from a different house. Five of my key informants were originally from Spain (three Catalan, one from Madrid and one from Zaragoza), others from various European countries or Latin America.
Garbage then and now – Or, food becomes food again
It is Thursday night. Although the sun is already setting, it is still unbelievably hot in the old town of Barcelona. I step run upstairs from the Jaume 1 metro station downtown, taking two steps at once. It is Food Not Bombs (FNB) night at the squat on Panses street and I’m hoping to get there before all the cooking starts. That is not an easy goal, as there is no time schedule in the squat and no certain time agreed on when to start cooking. At some point during the late evening, someone decides to start cooking and others who are in the house join him or her to help with the food or with serving. I hurry through the massive river of tourists that flows towards the beach at Barceloneta and head towards the tiny alleyway with cobblestones where the squat is located.
I have previously only been there once and not quite certain which dark smelly alley to turn into. Slightly worried, I nevertheless reach the right place, recognising it at once – the only doorway in the alley to be fully decorated (above it, the legs of a mannequin spread towards the street) yet without an actual door. In front of it, on the street, someone with a beard and a dog mounting an old bicycle. I go in from the empty doorway and run up the dark stairs to realise by the aroma in the hallway that someone has already started cooking. Three lazy dogs slowly jump off their chairs to greet me as I enter the dining room. People chopping, mixing, patting, smoking, and chatting surround the large wooden table in the centre of the room. Two or three 1,5 litre bottles of Xibeca beer are passed around; someone is playing the guitar on the balcony; cramped to the corner, two South American boys are smoking pot and playing a very slow chess game. A thick cloud of food aromas and sweat smell steams from the kitchen corner where at least four people are trying to cook on three burners.
A dark haired skinny boy at the end of the dining table explains to me that they are making lentil cutlets with oatmeal and almond flour. He says he bought the lentils himself, because there is so much almonds in the house that he decided he wanted to use them for cutlets. The almonds, a 50 kg bag, were recycled from a dumpster behind a chocolate factory the night before. It had been quite a hassle to transport it back to the house, even more so because of the other oddity they had found – the front half of a huge chocolate statue of a brown bear. This statue is now the centrepiece of the corner table where most of the recycled food is accumulated. The sight is peculiar to say the least: next to a green pile of zucchinis, a sad-looking brown bear made of chocolate.
Let’s take a closer look on the modern food cycle – on how capitalism and the neoliberal worldview have affected food production/consumption and why edible food fills rubbish containers, heading towards destruction. I describe the journey of a food item towards reaching the zone where it becomes repulsive to the consumer, focusing solely on commercial garbage bins – containers used by shops, super markets and food factories – excluding garbage containers used by households. The group under study refrain from dumpstering in household containers, preferring commercial ones. This is mostly for a rather prosaic reason: they say there is simply much more food in commercial garbage containers.
There are also figures supporting their claims. Although it is estimated that the European average food waste production consists of more than 40% of food waste produced in households and only 5% of food waste that origins from retail and wholesale, the same study shows a remarkable difference when looking at country-by-country data. Whilst it is estimated that Spaniards create 218 791 tonnes of household food waste per year, the amount of food waste created in retail and wholesale is astonishing: approx. 1 244 846 tonnes per year (Monier, Hestin, et al 2011). This is an extraordinary difference compared to other European countries. Another reason for disregarding household garbage bins by my informants is tightly connected to my research topic – namely, personal rubbish is conceived as more disgusting than public waste (c.f. Rotberg & Rabb 1985; Stoller 1989).
According to my informants, commercial garbage containers are filled with food for reasons that could roughly be divided into three categories:
Food that presumably has low aesthetic value for the possible consumer (vegetables that are too big or too small; vegetables with visual effects of ageing: spots, crinkles; food with packaging that has been damaged etc.);
Food that is reaching or has reached its ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ date;
Foods that are in the same package with a damaged food item (i.e. a bag of oranges with one mouldy orange, a box of eggs with one broken egg, a six pack of beers with one bottle broken and so forth).
In a nutshell, these are foods that give the possible consumer the feeling of not being ‘fresh’ enough. Needless to say, this food is actually by in large edible. To understand better how and why this came to be, let us look at the history of the modern food system – how it was born and where it is right now.
An historical overview
With the large-scale urbanisation of the 18th century in Europe self-sufficient food production in households became nearly impossible – there just was no room to grow your vegetables or animals any more. This accelerated during the last 200 years to a food system where almost everyone is more or less dependent on the global food economy. As free market economy widened to an international extent, the processing and growing of food items and agricultural products moved to the so-called Third World, where labour and land are cheaper and the requirements for safety and lower environmental impact demand smaller or non-existent investments. This made food production cheaper and led to a situation where it is cheaper to grow food materials en masse in the ‘developing’ countries than to produce the necessary amounts of vegetables and meat locally. Food became abundant and globalised. Gretel & Pertti Pelto have defined this as ‘delocalization’ in their study of dietary changes in different human populations since 1750:
By “delocalization” /…/ we refer to processes in which food varieties, production methods, and consumption patterns are disseminated throughout the world in an ever-increasing and intensifying network of socio-economic and political interdependency. From the point of view of individuals and families at any one place on the globe, delocalization means that an increasing portion of the daily diet comes from distant places usually through commercial channels (1983: 507)
They emphasise that the dietary changes associated with delocalization have had contradictory results in different parts of the world – while more industrialised countries have seen a leap in better nutrition, less industrialised countries have, on the contrary, seen a degradation of nutrition levels due to the spread of the so-called cash crops. Although market liberalisation and the introducing of cash crops are mostly hoped to better the general economic situation of a given ‘developing’ country and to enhance the living conditions of its rural population and farmers, this is often not the case; as the increasing prices and social standards lead to bigger living costs, the agricultural reforms may even end up worsening the situation (Ponte 1998).
Yet, this kind of relationship is not anything new. Starting with historical luxury goods such as tea, coffee, sugar and (other) spices, food consumption has been tightly connected with the power relations between the North and the South, the richer and the poorer, ‘us’ and ‘them’. One of the most thorough works on this interdependence is Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power (1986) in which he draws a global yet detailed picture of the relationships surrounding sugar, how it evolved in time and how it has effected the economic and social development of the modern world. According to Mintz, sugar was the first crops that led the way to a capitalist system of food production. Sugar farming in the Caribbean and its importation to Europe laid out the foundation for a global food economy. Although Karl Marx might disagree when labelling this type of production as capitalist (capitalist production is based on labour selling, not slave labour), Mintz considers it to be one step before capitalism, a sort of pre-capitalist stage.
Along with the syrupy lines of sugar becoming an everyday commodity for the masses, the consumer society began to evolve, bringing along an ever-increasing appetite for cheap foodstuffs. And where consumerism flourished, a wave of food waste followed shortly afterwards. Basing her work on Baudrillard’s theory of consumption the eco semiotic concentrating on garbage, Riste Keskpaik, claims that “[e]xcessive production of trash is not simply a feature of the consumer society; it is its basic structural-functional aspect” (Keskpaik 2004: 37). In the neoliberal culture based on consumerism, wasteful behaviour and excessive waste creation are paradoxically the very instruments to give birth to an illusion of affluence:
In a way, it is the same with affluence: for this to become a value, there has to be not simply enough, but too much. /…/ This is the function of waste at all levels. /…/ [I]t is waste, in some way, which orientates the whole system (Baudrillard 1998 : 45).
As demonstrated by my informants – none of whom reported any health issues as a result of consuming discarded foods – as a result of these three reasons there are massive amounts of edible food converted into the waste/dirt category. This can be seen in relation to a need of seeing food as ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’ by the consumers.
Freshness and cleanliness can be connected to the concept of ‘healthism‘ as used by professor of medicine Petr Skrabanek. In The Death of Humane Medicine and the Rise of Coercive Healthism (1994) Skrabanek describes the long history that food consumption (diet) and (not) dying have – how the two have been connected through times and still are. He shows how the line is drawn between the ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ – wrong and right, pure and impure. We eat what is considered to be good for our health, so that we would live a ‘good’ life and, if possible, not die at all, or at least live as long as it is possible.
Superfluous amounts of waste, especially edible food accounted as waste, that create the possibility for dumpster diving are a trait of the consumer society based on a neoliberal view on food as commodity and also on obsessive healthism. But we must not rush into conclusions and misinterpretations. Waste in itself is a much older concept than a passing tendency in the economic interpretation of the surroundings. In the next paragraph I will try to give a better description of the category of rejected matter in order to see how and why cultures position themselves in relation to it.
What is waste?
Garbage, trash, waste, rubbish are terms that all denote the same category, the category of rejected matter. This rejected matter has been discussed in structural anthropology as the zone between nature and culture, a liminal zone of being a part of both, yet neither. Mary Douglas has famously called dirt – rejected matter – “matter out of place”. Her structural approach ties the existence of dirt directly to a system of symbolism:
Dirt /…/ is never a unique, isolated event. Where there is dirt there is system. Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements. This idea of dirt takes us straight into the field of symbolism and promises a link-up with more obviously symbolic systems of purity (Douglas 2001 : 36).
A thing becomes polluting or dirty in relation to its context, to the system of classification surrounding it as a symbol – a broom standing in a corner is not dirty, but a broom placed on a dining table is. Dirt is the opposite of order, of systematisation. Dirt is a destructive yet creative power, a process of change constantly breathing down purity’s neck. According to Douglas, all societies base their notion of dirt and pollution on symbolic categorisation, regardless of whether or not the society has knowledge on bacteriology and hygiene; the categorisation of dirt exists in all cultures, despite of economic or historic developments (Douglas 2001 ). This notion of dirt is closely related to the philosopher Julia Kristeva’s idea of abjection that brings dirt and pollution to the realm of psychoanalysis. Kristeva takes Douglas’s notion of dirt and connects it to the feeling of repulsiveness necessary for defining oneself and rejecting all ambiguous matters in order to categorise the surroundings and to position oneself towards them:
It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. The traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the killer who claims he is a savior /…/ (Kristeva 1982: 4).
In the ambiguity, the being and not being, the phase between life and death of dirt, of waste, is what makes one feel an uncanny presence of death, bringing about abjection, repulsiveness. In the third chapter I will discuss abjection more thoroughly in relation to the notions of edibility and in-edibility that arise somewhat naturally when thinking of eating discarded foods.
Jo and I reach two garbage containers that have their lids open, which is often a sign that someone has already visited them. Nonetheless we go up to the bins to make sure. Jo props up his bike on a tree next to the containers. The bike has a flat tire, but Jo insisted bringing it along, as the trailer he attached to it would definitely be needed to bring home the huge amounts of food that we would find. Thus far, it has a small bag of bread and sandwiches that Jo picked up from some street corner without me noticing and a few loose tomatoes, mushrooms and other vegetables that we found from the first bins we raided. They roll around the trailer like forgotten dices. Someone else had already visited those bins, too, so we did not find as much as Jo had boasted beforehand. All the best bits had been taken out and the remaining food had been carelessly mixed together, mushy vegetables with meat bits and napkins. Ugh. “Uhm, someone has already been here,” I cautiously mention. Jo shrugs his shoulders “No, don’t worry” and digs in. I do as told and manage to find a few tomatoes that do not slump through my fingers. I put them in the trailer and wipe my palms against the lid of the bin. We then walk towards the heart of the old town to reach another shop that could be recycled.
Baudrillard, Jean 1998 . The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. London: Sage.
Douglas, Mary 2001 . Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Routledge.
Edwards, Ferne & Dave Mercer 2012. Gleaning from Gluttony: An Australian Youth Subculture Confronts the Ethics of Waste. In Williams-Forson, P. & C. Counihan (eds). Taking Food Public. Redefining Foodways in a Changing World. New York: Routledge. (chap. 14, pp. 175-194).
Gross, Joan 2009. Capitalism and its Discontents: Back-to-the-Lander and Freegan Foodways in Rural Oregon. Food and Foodways. 17: 57-79.
Keskpaik, Riste 2004. Semiotics of Trash: Towards and Ecosemiotic Paradigm. MA Dissertation. Department of Semiotics. Tartu: University of Tartu.
Kristeva, Julia 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press.
Martínez, Miguel 2007. The Squatter‘s Movement: Urban Counter-Culture and Alter-Globalization Dynamics. South European Society and Politics. 12(3): 379-398.
Mintz, Sidney W. 1986. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.
Monier, Véronique, Mathieu Hestin, et al. 2011. (waste across EU27) SR1, Final Report. Paris: BIO Intelligence Service, EU Commission, DG Env.
Pelto, Gretel H. & Pertti J. Pelto 1983. Diet and Delocalization: Dietary Changes since 1750. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 14(2): 507-528. Republished in Rotberg, Robert I. & Theodore K. Rabb 1985. (eds) 1985. Hunger and History: The Impact of Changing Food Production and Consumption Patterns on Society. Cambridge: CUP. (pp. 309-30).
Ponte, Stefano 1998. Fast Crops, Fast Cash: Market Liberalization and Rural Livelihoods in Songea and Morogoro Districts, Tanzania. Canadian Journal of African Studies. 32(2):
Rotberg, Robert I. & Theodore K. Rabb 1985 (eds). Hunger and History: The Impact of Changing Food Production and Consumption Patterns on Society. Cambridge: CUP.
Skrabanek, Petr 1994. The Death of Humane Medicine and the Rise of Coercive Healthism. Suffolk: St Edmundsbury Press Ltd.
Shantz, Jeff 2005. One Person’s Garbage… Another Person’s Treasure: Dumpster Diving, Freeganism, And Anarchy. verb.lib.lehigh.edu/index.php/verb/article/view/19/19 [06.05.2012]
Stoller, Paul 1989. The Taste of Ethnographic Things: The Senses in Anthropology. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.
Edited by Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse, Making the Geologic Now, has many entries on waste. Perhaps this is not surprising, since many of what Samantha MacBride calls “modern wastes,” characterized by their synthetic nature, unpredictability, and heterogeneity, are also permanent. From plastics to e-waste, industrially-generated waste now lasts in geological time rather than evolutionary time, meaning much of our industrial and domestic trash will outlive our species. Nuclear waste is only the most quintessential example of a geologic modern discard.
This excerpt from Making the Geologic Now was originally published on BLDGBLOG in 2008. The book is open access, has a Creative Commons copyright, and has an interactive, PDF, and hard copy format from Punctum Books. It contains artistic, journalistic, academic, and introspective writing, and is a real treat.
One million years of isolation: an interview with Abraham van Luik
by Ceoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley
Abraham Van Luik is a geoscientist with the U.S. Department of Energy. At the time of this interview, in the autumn of 2009, Van Luik was based at the proposed nuclear waste-entombment site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Yucca Mountain—an extinct supervolcano inside the Nevada Test and Training Range at the Nellis Air Force Base, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas—is the controversial site originally chosen by Congress for the storage of nuclear waste. Its political fate remains uncertain. Although the Obama Administration has stated that Yucca Mountain is “no longer… an option for storing nuclear waste,” Congress has since voted to continue funding the project—albeit only with enough funds to allow for the official licensing process to continue.
As part of a larger series of quarantine-themed interviews recorded and published from 2009-2010, we spoke to Abraham Van Luik about the technical nature of nuclear waste storage and what it means, on the level of geological engineering, to quarantine a hazardous material for more than one million years.
Geoff Manaugh: How did you start designing a project like Yucca Mountain, when you’re dealing with such enormous timescales and geological complexity?
Abraham Van Luik: You start with a question: how do you perceive the need to isolate a material from the environment?
I think most people would begin to answer that by looking at the nature of the material. Wherever that material is currently, we make sure that there is either a thick wall or a deep layer of water to protect the people working around it. That’s what’s being done at a reactor: when spent fuel comes out of a reactor, it’s taken out remotely with no one present, and put into a water basin that’s deep enough that there is no radioactive shine from the spent fuel escaping out of that water. If the pool is getting full, after five years or so of cooling, then the utility company will take the material out of the pool—remotely manipulated from behind leaded-glass windows—and put it into dry storage. Dry storage uses very thick steel and concrete. And there it will sit until someone disposes of it, or until it’s reprocessed.
Now, in most countries, what they have done next is asked: What geology would be very good for isolating this material from the environment? And what geologies are available in our country? The Swedes have gone to their granites, because their whole country is basically underlain by granites. The French looked at granites, salts, and clay, and decided to go with clay. The Belgians and Dutch are looking at clay and salts; and the Germans are looking at salts right now, but also at granites and clay. The Swiss are looking at clay, mostly, although they did look at crystalline rock—meaning rock with large crystals, like granite, gabbros, and that kind of thing. But they decided that, in their particular instance—since the Alps are still growing and slopes are not all that stable over hundreds of thousands of years—to look instead at their deep basins of clays close to the Rhine River as a repository location. We’re all looking to isolate this material for about a million years.
In the U.S. we did a sweep of the country, looked at all the available geologies, and we decided that we had many possible sites. We investigated some, which basically involved looking at what we knew from geological surveys of the states, and then we made a recommendation to go look at three of the possibilities in greater detail. There was then a decision process: it went from nine sites, to five, to three.
At that point, Congress stepped in. They started looking at the huge bills associated with site-specific studies—excavation is not cheap—and they said: let’s just do one site and see if it’s suitable. If it is not, then we’ll go back and see what else we can do.
So that’s how Yucca Mountain, basically, was selected. It was a cost-saving measure over the other two that were in the running for a repository. Those were a bedded salt site in Texas and a basalt site—a deep volcanic rock site—in Washington State.
But all three were looked at, and all three were judged to be equally safe for the first 10,000 years—which, at that time, was the regulation. Since the selection of Yucca Mountain, the regulation has been bumped up to a million years, which is pretty much where the rest of the world is looking: a million years of isolation.
Now, the reason that you want to isolate this material for a million years is that the spent fuel—meaning fuel that no longer supports the chain reaction that keeps reactors making electricity—contains actinides. These are metal elements, from 90 to 103 on the Periodic Table, most of which are heavier than uranium (which is 92). Actinides are generally very slow to radioactively decay into smaller atoms—which then decay more rapidly—and some of the actinides actually do remain hazardous for a million years and beyond. The trick is to isolate them for that length of time.
At Yucca Mountain we took the attitude that, since we basically have a dry mountain in a dry area with very little rainfall, we would use a material that can stand up to oxygen being present. The material we selected was a metal alloy called Alloy 22. Our design involves basically wrapping the stainless steel packages, in which we would receive the spent fuel, in Alloy 22 and sticking them inside this mountain with a layer of air over the top. What we know is that when water moves through rock or fractured materials, it tends to stay in the rock rather than fall—unless that rock is saturated. Yucca Mountain is unsaturated, so water ought not be a major issue for us at Yucca Mountain—yet it is.
We have to worry about future climates, because, right now in Nevada, we are in a nine year drought—and, basically since the last Ice Age, we have been in a 10,000-year drought. 80% of the time, if we look a million years into the past, we have, on average, twice the precipitation we have now. Most of the past is—and the future will be—wetter and cooler. Which is nice for Nevada! [laughs]
In any case, we tried to take advantage of the natural setting, as well as take advantage of a metal that stands up very well to oxidizing conditions. That is how, in our safety analyses, we showed that we are basically safe for well beyond a million years—if we do exactly what we said we would do in that analysis.
Other countries have decided not to go in a similar direction to us. The only other country that’s contemplating a similar repository to ours is Mexico. All the other countries in the world are looking at constructing something that is very deep—and under the water table. If you go under the water table deep enough, there is no oxygen in the water, and if there is no oxygen than the solubility of a sizable number of the radionuclides is a non-problem. Many are just not soluble unless there is oxygen in the water.
Going that deep then allows those countries to use a different set of materials, ones that last a long time when there is no oxygen present. For example, the Swedes are using granite—so are the Finns, by the way, and the Canadians, though the Canadians might decide to go for clays. With the granites, the older they are, the more fractured they are, and they can’t predict a million years into the future where the fracture zones are going to be. So they have chosen a copper container for their spent fuel; copper is thermodynamically stable in granite. In fact, copper deposits naturally occur in granite. They then wrap a very thick layer of bentonite clay around the container, which they put in dry. When that clay gets wet, as it will do eventually, it expands. When there is a fracture zone that is created by nature, the clay will basically decompress itself a little bit, fill the fracture zone, and you will still have a lot of protection from that clay layer. It’s a similar set up with salt or clay repositories, they eventually close up against the waste packages. Nothing moves through clay or salt very rapidly.
Those are basically the three rock types that the whole world is looking at in terms of repositories.
So you can rely more on the engineered system or more on the natural system. Either way, it’s the combination of the two systems that allows you to predict, with relative security, that you’re going to isolate a material for well over a million years. By that time, the natural decay of the material that you’ve hidden away has pretty much taken care of most of the risk. In fact, by about half a million years, most of the spent fuel is less radioactive than the ore from which it was created. That’s a wonderful argument—but the spent fuel still isn’t safe at that point. You still need to continue to isolate it, just as you don’t want to live on top of uranium ore, either. It’s a dangerous material.
In a nutshell, that’s our philosophy of containment.
Manaugh: I’m interested in how you go about testing these sorts of designs. Do you actually build scale models, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ hydrological models, or do you rely on lab tests and computer simulations, given the timescale and complexity?
Van Luik: What we do is safety assessments that project safety out to a million years. What I used to say to my troops, when I was a manager of this activity, was: “Safety assessment without any underlying science is like a confession in church without a sin: without the one, you have nothing to say in the other.”
To collect the science needed to make credible projections of system safety, we have dug several miles of tunnels under this mountain; we’ve done lots of testing of how water can move through this mountain, if there was more water; and we’ve done testing of coupons of the materials that we want to use. These tests were performed using solutions, temperature ranges, and oxygen concentrations that we think are representative over the whole range of what can be reasonably expected at Yucca Mountain. Those kinds of physical tests we have done.
We have also utilized information from people who have taken spent fuel apart in some of our national laboratories and subjected it to leaching tests to see how it dissolves, how fast it dissolves, and what dissolves out of it. We have done all of that kind of testing, and that’s what forms the basis for our computer modeling.
One thing we have not done, and can’t do, is a mock-up of Yucca Mountain. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s too complicated, too large, and too long a time-scale.
In compensation for that spatial- and time-scale difficulty, what we have done is looked for similar localities with uranium deposits in them, like Peña Blanca, Mexico, just north of Chihuahua City. There, we have rock very similar to Yucca Mountain’s rock, and we have probably a 30-million year old uranium deposit—quite a rich one—that was going to be mined until the price of uranium dropped considerably. We’ve studied that piece of real estate—it has roughly similar rock, sitting under similar conditions except for more summer rainfall—and we’ve looked at the movement of radioactivity from that ore body. From that we’ve gained confidence that our computer modeling can pretty much mimic what was seen at that uranium site.
We’ve looked for natural analogues of other possible conditions—for example, the climate at Yucca Mountain during an ice age. We’ve studied six or seven sites that mimic what we would see during a climate change here.
And, in terms of materials, there are some naturally occurring materials that have a passive coating on them. We’ve studied metals found in nature that are similar in the way they act to the metals that we are using for our waste packages.
So we have gone basically all through nature looking for analogous processes—but none are exact matches for Yucca Mountain. It’s going to need something more unique than that. I think the same is true for every other repository being contemplated.
We have worked in cooperation with fourteen other countries through the European Commission’s Research Directorate in Brussels, and the Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris, to compare notes on natural analogues and discuss what is useful and what is not for which concept. All these countries are doing the same kind of thing: looking at natural occurrences that are hundreds of thousands, if not hundreds of millions, of years old.
In some cases, the natural analogues we’ve studied are billions of years old. We’ve looked at the Oklo mining district in Gabon, Africa. We studied several occurrences in that mining district where, for the last few million years, ore bodies have been subjected to oxidizing conditions, because uplift of the land brought them above the water table. We’ve looked at these natural reactor zones, which were active two billion years ago when the earth was much more radioactive than it is now, to see what we could learn about the movement of radioactivity in an oxidizing zone. We can use that data for corroborating the modeling of Yucca Mountain.
On top of all that, we have the problem of unlikely volcanic events, as well as strong earth motions from equally unlikely seismic events, at Yucca Mountain. These are problems you won’t have at most of the other repository sites being considered in the world. To study that, we brought in expert groups with their own insights and models to evaluate what the chances are, from a risk perspective, of a volcanic event actually interrupting or disrupting the repository. They also looked at the possibility of a very large ground motion adding stress and causing eventual failure of one or more of the waste packages. Although volcanic events are highly unlikely—as are very large ground-motion events—they must be factored into our analyses, based on the likelihood of their occurring over a one-million year time span.
We have basically done all safety-evaluation analyses from the perspective of the things that could happen, given the nature of this geologic setting. Looking at analogues for processes in nature has given us confidence that what we expect to see at Yucca Mountain is what we have seen nature produce elsewhere. These are indirect lines of evidence that support us—but we have also made a lot of direct measurements and observations, as well as testing in laboratories of materials and processes, to make sure that we’re on the right track.
The National Academy of Sciences has reviewed our research and our situation, and they’ve agreed that we have predictability for about a million years. That judgment influenced the EPA, who then gave us a standard for a million years.
Manaugh: Could you discuss the material selection process in more detail? I’d like to hear how you found Alloy 22, for example. Also, when my wife and I visited Yucca Mountain a few years ago, we were given a black glass bead at the information center—what role does that glass play in the containment design? Finally, are the materials you’ve chosen specifically engineered for the nuclear industry, or are these simply pre-existing materials that happen to have the requisite properties for nuclear containment?
Van Luik: No, the materials are not specifically engineered for the purpose of nuclear containment.
Let’s look at Alloy 22 first. We looked at the whole range of what is commercially available, in terms of pure metals and metal alloys. We also looked at things like ceramic coatings. There are some very, very hard ceramic coatings that, for example, are used on bearings for locomotives. There are also ceramics that the military uses on projectiles to penetrate buildings. There are some very good ceramic materials out there, but we had a problem with the predictability of very, very long-term behavior in ceramics. That’s why we decided to go with a metal; a metal will fail by several different corrosion mechanisms, but not by the breakage that is typical of ceramics.
One of the things that the metals industry has been doing—for the paper-pulp industry, for example, which creates the worst possible chemical environment you can imagine—is that they have been developing more and more corrosion-resistant materials. One of the top of the line of these corrosion-resistant materials was Alloy 22. We tested it alongside about six other candidates in experiments where we dripped water on them, we soaked them in water, and we had them half in and out of water, with varying solutions that we tailored for what we would expect in the mountain over time. The one that stood out—the most reliable in all of these tests—was Alloy 22.
The black glass that you saw is not something that the waste is wrapped in. This material will be made at Hanford and maybe at Idaho, too—and at Savannah River they are making that black material right now. It’s an imitation volcanic glass—a borosilicate glass—in which radioactive materials are dispersed. Material would be released from that if the waste package breaks, and if the material is touched by water or even water vapor. It would then start to alter, and as it alters it would start to release the radioactivity inside. So what you and your wife were looking at was basically a glass waste-form. We don’t make it here—that’s how radioactive waste will be delivered to us from the Defense Department and Department of Energy. We will receive it in huge containers, not as beads.
We also have little pellets of imitation spent fuel, similar to pencil lead in color, to show visitors what the fuel rods look like inside of a reactor. The fuel rods are ceramic, coated on the outside with an alloy.
Nicola Twilley: Could you walk us through the planned process of loading the waste into the mountain, all the way up to the day you close the outer door?
Van Luik: Sure. The process, depending on whether Yucca Mountain ever goes through, politically speaking, will be as follows.
From the cooling pools or dry storage at the reactor, we’ve asked the nuclear utility companies to put their spent fuel—or waste—into containers that we have designed and that we will supply to them. The waste will be remotely taken out of whatever container it is in now, put into our containers, which are certified for shipping as well as disposal, and then we would slide those containers onto trains. We want to use mostly trains—we try to avoid truck use.
Rail shipping containers currently in use are massive—some approaching two-hundred tons fully loaded. The trains would bring the containers to us and then we would up-end them remotely and take the material out in a large open bay—all done remotely, again. If it comes in the shipping cask that we have provided, we will be able to put it directly into the Alloy 22 and stainless steel waste package and weld it shut. Then, with a transporter vehicle that’s also remotely operated, we would take it underground and place it end-on-end, lying down in our repository drifts. That’s what we call the tunnels; tunnels without an opening are called drifts. We would basically fill the drifts until we get to the entrance, put a door on, and then move on to the next one. That’s the basic scheme of how this would be done. Everything is shielded, of course, so that people are not exposed to radiation; workers are protected, as well as the public.
Twilley: How many containers could you fit inside a single drift, and how many drifts do you actually have in the mountain?
Van Luik: The drifts are each about 600 to 800 meters long. They vary a little bit, depending on where they are in the mountain. We will have 91 emplacement drifts—with an average of about 120 waste packages, set end-to-end, in each drift—to take care of the 70,000 metric tons that we are authorized to have. If we receive authorization to have more than 70,000 metric tonnes, then we’re prepared to go up to 125,000 metric tonnes of heavy metal. That metric tonnage figure doesn’t represent the total weight that goes into the mountain, by the way—it means that the containers have the equivalent of that many tonnes of uranium in them. In other words, 70,000 metric tons is about 11,000 containers that weigh about ten metric tons each, so it’s a huge amount of weight. Each container contributes a significant amount of weight in itself: the steel and the Alloy 22 are very heavy.
In terms of what the repository would look like, if built, it would be a series of open tunnels, one after the other, with a bridging tunnel that allows the freight to be brought in on rail. Everything is done remotely. The 40km of tunnels would all be filled up at some point, and then we would seal up the larger openings to the exterior, but leave everything else inside the mountain unsealed.
This is very different, by the way, from every other repository in the world, which would tightly compact material around the waste packages. We want to leave air around the waste packages, because of our situation. We have unsaturated water flow, rather than saturated flow, and as I’ve mentioned, water does not like to fall into air out of rock—it would rather stay in the rock, unless it’s saturated and under some degree of pressure (such as from the weight of water above it). So if we put something like bentonite clay around our packages, that would actually wick the water from the rock toward the waste packages—which is a silly thing to do if you’re trying to take advantage of an unsaturated condition.
Twilley: What process have you designed for sealing the exterior door? Does that also require a uniquely secure set of material and formal choices?
Van Luik: Sealing the repository wouldn’t happen for at least 100 years, so what we have done at this point is basically left that decision for the future. We have done a preliminary design, which uses a heavy concrete mixture—as well as rock rubble for a certain portion—to seal the exits from the main tunnel that goes around and feeds all the smaller tunnels.
The idea is that these openings have nothing to do with how the mountain itself functions, because the mountain is a vertical-flow system. Coming in from the sides, as we are, has nothing to do with how the water behaves in the repository, or with the containment system we’ve designed. So we just want to block the side exits and make it very difficult for someone to reenter the mountain—to the point where they would basically be much better off reentering it by drilling a whole new entryway beside one of the old ones that’s filled in.
Then there are going to be about seven vertical shafts for ventilation that will be sealed at the time of final closure. Those will be filled to mimic the hydrological properties of the rock around them; we don’t want them to become preferred pathways of water, because those will point directly into the repository.
So there are two different closure schemes for the two different types of openings: three large entryways that will be completely sealed off to prevent reentry, and seven ventilation shafts that will be filled with materials that have been engineered to mimic the hydrological properties of the rock around it.
Twilley: And the ventilation shafts are required because the material is so hot?
Van Luik: Yes. Once we put the waste in, we want to blow air over it by drawing in air from the bottom and blowing it out the top to take heat away until we shut off the vents for final closure. The idea is to take enough heat out of the system so that, when we close it, it doesn’t exceed our tolerances for temperature.
Twilley: Is there any chance that having such a large amount of heavy material at Yucca Mountain could actually pose a seismic risk for the region?
Van Luik: When we selected this particular location, we looked very carefully at faults. But you’re right: if you get beyond a certain amount of weight, as under a growing mountain range, you do start shifting things in the ground. If you build something right on a fault line you can probably change the frequency of vibration at that location, and maybe aggravate the earthquake that’s eventually going to happen.
However, even if we fill this repository to 125,000 metric tons, that is only something like .01% of the weight of the mountain itself. Plus, we are surrounded by two major faults, on both sides of the mountain, and even though there’s movement occasionally on those faults, the block in the middle—where Yucca Mountain sits—is like a boat, riding very steadily. It’s been like that for the past twelve million years, so we don’t see that it’s going to change in the future.
That said, we are in an area that’s moving all the time. The entire area now is moving slowly to the northwest, and the basin and range here is still growing—the distance between Salt Lake and Sacramento is already twice what it was twelve million years ago, and they will continue to be pulled apart. We’re well aware of the consequences of basin and range growth, and the possibility that the faults Yucca Mountain is sitting next to could be active again in the future. We factored that in. In fact, it’s those earthquakes that might actually lead to failures in the system that would allow something to come out before a million years—otherwise nothing would come out until beyond a million years.
But you can’t put enough weight in that mountain to change the tectonic regime in the area.
Manaugh: Of course, once you have sealed the site, you face the challenge of keeping it away from future human contact. How does one mark this location as a place precisely not to come to, for very distant future generations?
Van Luik: We have looked very closely at what WIPP is doing—the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. They did a study with futurists and other people—sociologists and language specialists. They decided to come up with markers in seven languages, basically like a Rosetta Stone, with the idea that there will always be someone in the world who studies ancient languages, even 10,000 years from now, someone who will be able to resurrect what the meanings of these stelae are. They will basically say, “This is not a place of honor, don’t dig here, this is not good material,” etc.
What we have done is adapt that scheme to Yucca Mountain—but we have a different configuration. WIPP is on a flat surface, and their repository is very deep underground; we’re basically inside a mountain with no resources that anybody would want to go after. We will build large marker monuments, and also engrave these same types of warnings onto smaller pieces of rock and metal, and spread them around the area. When people pick them up, they will think, “Oh—let’s not go underground here.”
Now if people see these things and decide to go underground anyway, that becomes advertent, not inadvertent, intrusion—and we can’t protect against that, because there’s no way to control the future. All we’re worried about is warning people so that, if they do take some action that’s not in their best interest, they do so in the full knowledge of what they’re getting into. The markers that we’re trying to make will be massive, and they will be made of materials that will last a long time—but they’re just at the preliminary stage right now.
What I have been lobbying for with the international agencies, like the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency is that before anybody builds a repository, let’s have world agreement on the basics of a marker system for everybody. Whoever runs the future, tens of thousands of years from now, shouldn’t have to dig up one repository and see a completely different marker system somewhere else and then dig that up, too. They should be able to learn from one not to go to the others.
Of course, there’s also a little bit of fun involved here: what is the dominant species going to be in 10,000 years? And can you really mark something for a million years?
What we have looked at, basically, is marking things for at least 10,000 years—and hopefully it will last even longer. And if this information is important to whatever societies are around at that time, if they have any intelligence at all, they will renew these monuments.
Manaugh: What kinds of projects might you work on after Yucca Mountain? In other words, could you apply your skills and a similar design process to different containment projects, such as carbon sequestration?
Van Luik: I think so—if we ever get serious about carbon sequestration. I don’t know if you know this, but we laid off a lot of people here because there were budget cuts, and many of those people, because of the experience they had with modeling underground processes, are now working on carbon sequestration schemes for the energy sector and the Department of Energy.
No matter what happens to Yucca Mountain—whether it goes through or not—dealing with spent fuel and other nuclear waste will still be a problem, and that’s the charter that was given to our office. What I’m hoping is that, as soon as Yucca Mountain gets completely killed or gets the go-ahead, I can go back to what I loved doing in the past, which was to look at selecting sites for future repositories.
One repository won’t be enough for all time; it will be enough for maybe a hundred years, at the very most. You have to plan ahead. As long as you create the nuclear waste, you need to have a place to put it. Even if you reprocess it—even if you build fast reactors and basically burn the actinides into fission products so that they only have to be isolated for 500 years rather than a million—you still have to have a place to put that material. Even if we can build repositories less and less frequently, we will still be creating waste that needs to be isolated from the environment.
Manaugh: You mentioned that your favorite pastime was looking for repository sites. If you had the pick of the earth, is there a location that you genuinely think is perfect for these types of repositories, and where might that location be?
Van Luik: My ideal repository location has changed over time. When I worked on crystalline rock, like granites, I thought crystalline rock was the cat’s meow. When I worked for a short time in salt, I thought salt was the perfect medium. Now that I have worked with the European countries and Japan for the past twenty-five years, learning of their studies of various repository locations, I’m beginning to think that claystone is probably the ideal medium.
In the U.S., I would go either to North or South Dakota and look for the Pierre Shale, where it grades into clay: there, you get the best of both worlds. I have been quoted by MSNBC, much to the chagrin of my bosses, saying that, if I were to get the pick of where we go next, that’s where I would go. They really didn’t like that—I was supposed to praise the Yucca Mountain site. But let’s get real: Yucca Mountain was chosen by Congress. We have shown that it’s safe, if we do what we say in terms of the engineered system. But it was not chosen to be the most optimal of all optimal sites, the site-comparison approach was taken off the table by Congress. As long as a chosen site and its system are safe, however, that is good enough.
Our predicted performance for Yucca Mountain, lined up to what the French are projecting for their repository in clay, and next to what the Swedes are projecting for their repository in granite, shows about the same outcome, over a million years, in terms of potential doses to a hypothetical individual. We’re safe as anybody can be—which is what our charter requires. We told Congress in 2002 that, yes, it can it be done safely here—but it’s going to cost you, and that cost is in Alloy 22 and stainless steel. Congress said OK and it became public law.
Twilley: Are any countries actually using their repositories yet?
Van Luik: They’re getting very close to licensing in Finland and Sweden. Those are going to be the first two. We have a firm site selection in France, which means that they’ll be going into licensing soon. Licensing takes several years in every country. In fact, we’re in licensing now, except we had a change of administration and they’ve decided that they really don’t want to do Yucca Mountain anymore. They want to do something else. They have every right to make those kind of policy decisions—so here we are.
No one is actually loading high-level waste or spent nuclear fuel into a repository yet. We have our own repository working with transuranic waste from the Defense program, in New Mexico, and both the Swedes and the Finns have medium-level waste sites, which are basically geological disposal sites, that have been active for over a decade.
The Swedes and Finns have a lot of experience building repositories underground, and their situation is interesting. The Swedes are building a repository under the Baltic Sea, but in granites that they can get to from dry land. When there is a future climate change, however, there’s going to be a period when the repository area will be farmable; it will be former ocean-bottom that is now on the surface. Their scenario is that, at the end of the next ice age, you might actually get a farmer who drills a water-well right above the repository.
The Finns actually have a very pragmatic attitude to this. They have regulations that basically cover the entire future span, out to a very long time period—but they also say that, once the ice has built up again and covered Finland, it won’t be Finland. No one will live there. But it doesn’t matter whether anyone lives there or not: you still have to provide a system that’s safe for whoever’s going to be there when the ice retreats.
We—as in the whole world—need to take these future scenarios quite seriously. And these are very interesting things to think about—things that, in normal industrial practice, you never even consider.
The repository program in England, meanwhile, went belly-up—because of regulatory issues, mostly—but it’s coming back, and it’s probably going to come back to exactly the same place as it was before. That’s a sedimentary-metamorphosed hard-rock rock site at Sellafield, right by the production facility. No transportation will be involved, to speak of. That’s not a bad idea, but they had to prove that the rock was good. The planning authority rejected their proposal the first time, so they dissolved the whole waste management company and now the government is going to take over the project; it’s not going to be private anymore. In the end, the government takes over this kind of stuff in most places because the long-term implications go way beyond the lifetime of one corporation.
If there’s any country that’s setting a good example for waste disposal, it’s Germany. They’re the only country I know of who have the same kind of regulations for hazardous waste and chemical waste as they do for nuclear waste. There are two or three working geological repositories for chemical waste in Germany, and they have been working for a very long time. They’re the only ones in the world. The chemical industry in the U.S. has basically said, no, no, don’t go there! [laughs]
But I think Germany is right: if one thing needs to be isolated because it’s dangerous, then the other thing—that never decays and is also dangerous—needs to be treated in the same way. The EPA does have a standard for deep-well injection of hazardous waste—they have a 10,000-year requirement for no return to the surface. That was comparable to what we had here, until the standard for Yucca Mountain got bumped up to a million years by Congress. But with some chemicals, regulations only require a few hundred years of isolation—that’s all. Those things don’t decay, so that doesn’t make sense to me.
Anyway, I applaud Germany for their gumption—and they’re very dependent on their chemical industry for income. It’s not like they’re trying to torpedo their industry. They’re just saying: you have to do this right.
While we often post article alerts about new scholarship on garbage matters, I wanted to take a moment to re-visit Ellen Handy’s 1995 essay, “Dust Piles and Damp Pavements: Excrement, Repression, and the Victorian City in Photography and Literature.” First of all, thank you Ellen Handy for introducing readers to Thomas Annan’s enduring work (see “Dust Piles and Damp Pavements” on pages 111-133 in Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination).
Annan’s photographs exist as a stunning historical record for readers of Discard Studies. They bring us back to the Victorian streets of Glasgow, the most crowded city in Europe when he captured his images during the late 1860s and early 1870s. The photographs provide historical windows for us; through them we glimpse the back streets, courtyards, narrow passageways and dank alleyways that existed in the poorer quarters and slums of Glasgow.But what is missing in his work, as Handy points out, is the human excrement, the dungheaps, the stinking solid waste that so permeated these spaces. As much as “an unwholesome seeping moisture of unspecific origins is prevalent in Annan’s pictures” (Dust Piles and Damp Pavements 117), “Annan must have taken great pains to avoid including the dunghills in some of his compositions” (117). Handy argues that despite the ubiquity of human waste, certain artists and authors — Dickens included — practiced important “evasive strategies” that concealed or avoided what was ever-present.
Historical evidence abounds testifying to how cities such as London had “back streets…strewn with human excrements” (F.B. Smith qtd. in Handy 112), yet the “refuse of those slums were seldom, if ever, apparent in literary or or visual artistic representations” (112). The English health reformer, Sir Edwin Chadwick describes the alleys that Annan photographed, noting how “the dungheap received all the filth which the swarm of wretched inhabitants could give” (qtd. in Handy 115). Handy wonders where the staggering quantity of human excrement went? Where were the towering dungheaps in the literature and photography of the era?
Charles Dickens, writes Handy, referred to the mounds of organic filth as “dust.” He used “evasive, allusive terminology” (122). “Dickens,” argues Handy, “dessicated humid massy excrement through language” while “Annan diluted it through pictorial metonymy” (122). Both “transformed the unspeakable matter into other substances” (122).
By concealing this important dimension of the human and animal filth of the cities, Annan and Dickens left us with incomplete records of the living conditions of the urban poor.
The Bright Side of Night – Perceptions, Costs and the Governance of
Lighting and Light Pollution
June 20–21, 2013
Erkner by Berlin (Germany)
Organisers: Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural
Planning (IRS, Erkner, Germany) Department of Urban and Regional Planning
– Technische Universität Berlin (ISR-TUB, Berlin, Germany)
Call for Posters
The introduction of public and private lighting systems in the late 19th
and early 20th century contributed to a profound and ongoing change in the
socio-economic, cultural and physical realities of modern cities. Working
and living routines no longer had to be aligned with the natural rhythm of
day and night, resulting in a dramatic increase in the night-time
production of goods as well as in the emergence of a bustling nightlife.
As a result, the perception and use of urban public space at night has
Despite the largely positive connotations associated with lighting and its
multiple cultural and social functions, the use of artificial light in
public spaces was – and is – neither universal nor uncontested. Negative
impacts on humans and animals, on the aesthetic qualities of town- and
landscapes as well as the ecological aftermath of energy consumption have
been discussed from early on – recently culminating in growing criticism
concerning “light pollution”. So far, there are only few general standards
or regulations regarding the quantity and quality of outdoor lighting.
This is not surprising, as artificial lighting is a highly complex field
that involves multiple interests and actors – and empirical research on
the topic has only begun in recent years. In order to address the
multi-faceted issue of artificial lighting adequately, it must face the
challenge of considering the historical, cultural, socio-political,
environmental and economic dimensions of light in an integrated fashion.
During the two-day conference focusing on the humanities and the social
sciences, various aspects and research approaches concerning lighting and
light pollution will be explored and discussed (research fields will
include history, literature and arts, geography, urban planning, politics
and economics). Each conference panel will highlight a different approach.
In the first panel, the main emphasis will be placed on the perception of
artificial light, e.g. the genesis, development and change of the symbolic
values attributed to light and darkness or the production and perception
of spaces and nocturnal cityscapes. The functions and infrastructural
provision of artificial lighting as well as public and vernacular lighting
practices will be discussed in the second panel. The emphasis of the third
panel will be on lighting conflicts and the governance of outdoor lighting
with a focus on the limits and potential of regulating light in public
space. The fourth panel will concentrate on methods and research
approaches for the assessment of perceptions and costs of artificial
lighting, light pollution and the night sky.
Among others, Jane Brox (Maine, USA), Susanne Bach and Folkert Degenring
(University of Kassel, Germany), Tim Edensor (Manchester Metropolitan
University, UK), Martin Morgan-Taylor (DeMontfort University Leicester,
UK), Kenneth Willis (University of Newcastle, UK), and Terrel Gallaway
(Missouri State University, USA) will present at the conference.
We particularly encourage junior researchers (postgraduates and postdocs)
from the humanities and social sciences to contribute a poster to the
conference. The posters will be discussed between the panels to complement
the presentations of the invited speakers.
We welcome contributions that address one or more of the following topics
referring to past or present:
- Symbolism and perceptions of artificial lighting or darkness
- Infrastructural provision of artificial lighting
- Social uses and functions of illumination and the production and sense
- Artificial lighting and environmental sustainability
- Light planning practices
- Governance of artificial lighting and darkness
- Conflicts concerning artificial lighting
- Methods to evaluate perceptions and costs of artificial lighting, light
pollution or darkness
The conference marks the completion of a 3-year interdisciplinary research
project on the causes and consequences of artificial outdoor lighting
entitled ‘Loss of the Night’ (http://www.verlustdernacht.de/about-us.html)
which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research
Please submit your abstract of approx. 200 words by December 15, 2012 to:
Ute Hasenöhrl (email@example.com, for history and the arts) or
Katharina Krause (firstname.lastname@example.org, for the social sciences)
Please don’t hesitate to contact us in case you have any further questions.
Last night’s presentation of Surveying Waste and Capital at Trade School (NYC), lead by CUNY doctoral candidate Jesse Goldstein included a historical narrative starting in England during the enclosure movement and how the “wasteland,” originally referring to productive pasture and foraging land on the outskirts of a village’s agricultural fields, was reframed as “wasted spaces” by advocates of enclosure. During this time, the meaning of “waste” was inverted to refer to inefficient land use rather than a productive commons.
Goldstein has recently written an article on the topic in Antipode:
Abstract: This essay provides an analysis of the “dirty” history and geography of enclosure, as both an instance of primitive accumulation and a production of nature. Specifically, I reconsider the English enclosures as a struggle over the land-use designation of “waste”. Whereas both open fields and common waste lands were an essential and valuable part of the common right economy, advocates of enclosure came to see these same lands as wasted commons; lands that were potentially, but not yet, improved. This dialectic of waste and potential permeates the fabric of the nature produced through enclosure, which I name terra economica. Typically, this terrain has been understood as a passive repository of free resources, extending across absolute space. While such accounts consider the making of nature into a universal means of production, it is equally important to consider the ways in which nature is produced as a universal condition of production.
The presentation on waste and capital then went on to look at urban filth, or “dust,” a combination of human and animal sewage, kitchen waste, ashes, and manufacturing waste that caked city streets and caused thick layers on urban waterways. Pigs and scavengers sorted useful (and edible) matter such as food scraps, metals, rags, night soil and coins from detritus in a sort of waste commons. This dust was not universally bad– it was generative as well as dangerous. On the main “characters” in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend — the filthy Thames River– can both give and take life, redeem and condemn.
We discussed the often racist, classist, and capitalist underpinnings of the progressive era’s sanitation movement to “clean up” the city of dust, disease, and the miasma of urban immigrants and industrial workers. The move to a universal infrastructure where efficiency demands that all waste is hauled away as an undifferentiated mass turns dust to trash.
The night’s discussion also included Henry Ford’s utopian and authoritarian “war on waste,” the rise of planned obsolescence and the disposable to cope with saturated markets (see Vance Packard’s Waste Makers for a contemporary critique), the recent financial meltdown and toxic loans, and finally various stances on global ecological management, from Green Capitalism to Steady-State economies. In each discussion, waste had different meanings, but was caught in the same power relations and over and over. I look forward to future articles by Goldstein and perhaps a guest post or two.
Editors: Elizabeth Patton, Doctoral Candidate — Media, Culture and Communication, New York University; Mimi Choi, MA — Literatures of Modernity, Ryerson University
Contact e-mail: email@example.com
We are looking for original proposals for chapters exploring representations of housework as they reflect and/or critique modern relationships from the nineteenth century to the present time. Since World War II, there have been a proliferation of films, TV shows and commercials, magazines and advertising that reflect and critique numerous issues of domestic life, but we also encourage chapter papers on earlier periods as areas of concentration or comparison.
We conceptualize housework as a key aspect of domestic life, an economic system that has produced domestic commodities and shaped interior spaces. By identifying household labor as “(house)work,” we emphasize the parallels (and differences) between work within and outside the home.
Possible contributions may include but are not limited to discussions of the following:
- etiquette guides, parenting and household manuals from the Victorian and early 20th-century periods
- 19th-century newspapers, magazines, advertising, and post bills representations and/or reporting on domestic issues (e.g. household management, household labor, childcare, household products, 1st wave feminism and the domestic sphere).
- the evolution and continuity of gendered portrayals of household management in TV sitcoms of different periods
- representations of queer domesticity in cinema and television
- representations of rural, urban or suburban domestic architecture in relation to housework and household management since the late 19th century
- growth of advertising in relation to women, housework and the domestic sphere
- history and influence of advice columns in newspapers, magazines and online media
- perspectives on feminine and masculine domestic spaces
- considerations of how specific films and directors (e.g., Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Judd Apatow) depict modern relationships and household management
- the function and popularity of “domestic” reality television shows (e.g., The Week the Women Went, Wife Swap, Jon and Kate Plus Eight).
- impact of cable-TV programming and the commodification and glamorization of household labor (e.g., Bravo, HGTV, Food Network)
- phenomena of hoarding and its depiction on TV
We invite 500-word chapter abstracts of critical and scholarly essays with works cited. Deadline is October 15, 2012. Successful authors will be notified by November 4, 2012. Completed chapter essays will be due February 1, 2013. Accepted papers are conditional upon final submission and approval by Readers of the press.
Please include a brief bio/cv (must include affiliation, educational background, research interests and current position) and contact info with submission.
- popular culture
- media studies
- feminist theory
- gender studies
- cultural studies