Recycling Cities: a photo essay

By Tim Winter and Cindy Godden

10 October 2011

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Cities are generators of prodigious amounts of waste. This increasingly applies as much in Asia as it does to western contexts. With more cities and more urban-dwellers than any other region of the world, the generation and disposal of waste in the rapidly-developing consumer societies of Asia matter at a planetary scale. Although this is understandably often cast as a profound challenge and problem, there are also reasons to be hopeful. While in the West, the rise of environmental consciousness coincided with the final demise of many traditions of economically self-sustaining reuse and recycling activities, for example, these have often been retained and reworked in cities in Asia.

These two photo essays form part of an in-production publication on recycling in urban Asia. Drawing together a group of scholars working across a number of disciplines, the publication will approach recycling in two inter-related ways: the first concerning the recycling of materials from waste products that takes place in and across cities in the region; the second concerning the material and imaginative adaptation, re-use and reconstruction of Asian urban environments and ways of life. In both senses, recycling is clearly more than a technical component of waste management, involving important socio-cultural, political and economic dimensions. In this regard we pursue an analytically expansive definition of recycling, moving beyond the familiar objects, rhythms and narratives of waste, excess and redemption, to include other im/material forms and spaces, which, together, open up discussions of what is rapidly becoming a critical issue for cities across Asia.

The two photo collections here pick up these themes in the context of Cambodia and Singapore. Cindy Godden (Centre for Cross Cultural Research, ANU) presents a closer look at waste pickers in Cambodia, and how they negotiate access to and work in such spaces of discard to collect objects they can sell or reuse to earn a daily income. Tim Winter examines a number of recycling themes in Singapore, focusing particularly on the export industries of recycled and second-hand goods in Little India.

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Publication Details

Recycling Cities

Edited by Tim Bunnell, Peter Marolt, Michelle Miller and Tim Winter.

Rethinking Recycling – the material complexities of plastics waste in Hanoi
Gay Hawkins, Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University of Queensland

-centricity, Periphery, Boundary, and Edge: Assembling Urban Orders from Rubbish Electronics
Josh Lepawsky, Department of Geography, Memorial University & Mostaem Billah, Department of Geography and Environment, University of Dhaka

Recycling water practice: Water scarcity in Chennai and the revival of rainwater harvesting
Emily Potter, School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

Waste Pickers in Asia: Contesting Value and Values
Cindy Godden, Centre for Cross‐Cultural Research, Research School of the Humanities, Australian National University

Recycled buildings: challenging sustainability in an era of air-conditioning
Tim Winter, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney