Attitudes to Waste



In the modern urbanised world, attitudes to waste – be it artefact-based rubbish, food remains, animal manure or human faeces – tend towards the negative. The received wisdom is that these are noisome and odious materials to be removed from their source as quickly as possible and without comment. But the same attitude is not common to all cultures either now or in the past. Indeed, as Hawkins and Muecke (2003, xiii-xiv) have stated:

Expelling and discarding is more than biological necessity – it is fundamental to the ordering of the self…it is bound up with a whole host of habits and practices through which we cultivate particular sensibilities and sensual relations with the world…changing relations to waste mean changing relations to self (cited in Waddington 2012, 58).

Attitudes to waste are, therefore, a reflection of a society’s political, philosophical and religious frameworks and we learn much about humanity by considering how perceptions have changed through time and space.