Waste is a core concern in our time. Waste is part of our everyday lives, our routines, practices, and surroundings, inhabits every sphere of our earth, and even extends into space. There are many examples to be found. Waste is plastic litter in the ocean, it is space debris, radiation from nuclear power plants, and traffic that we produce with our digital practices — e.g. when we zoom, use e-mail or store data online. Waste is everywhere, ranging from visible to invisible matter(s), from long-lasting to ephemeral forms of waste, from local to global waste, from waste within our bodies and outside. Or rather: there is no outside of waste. So what can we learn from waste and waste practices? 

Let’s use a more-than-prominent case to exemplify the relationships, the dependencies and the power constellations that waste can open up: plastic waste. Plastic represents a material that is impossible to untie from the rise of Western commodity societies that emerged after WWII, in which consumer goods that were previously not affordable became affordable. Roland Barthes once characterized plastic as withholding the “idea of infinite transformation” (1957: 223). The materiality of plastic allows to form products of all sorts, a characteristic with enormous consequences for its use, re-use, storage and disposal. The infinite transformative capacity has resulted in plastic being present in all possible shapes and sizes, forms and formats, from colorful flashy kids toys, to outdoor clothing, food containers, drinking bottles and car tires.  And as we learned more recently, small plastic particles of all sorts which remain invisible to the naked eye. Consequently, plastic has also become an uncanny material, with the promises of modernity broken, plastic objects of all sizes turn into (potentially) toxic matter which resides in air, water, soil and in literally every sphere on earth. Plastic has indeed made it to the limelight of attention as it occurs in (human) bodies and persists within these bodies as chemical components, e.g. flame retardants or plasticizers. Plastic waste is invisible and visible, ephemeral and persistent. It shifts its material status, forms alliances between different scales, and creates affectedness(es). It is valued according to multiple valuation regimes: e.g. it is a helpful material for cheap and affordable things; it is uncanny when it resides in human and more-than-human bodies; it is a living space when it becomes inhabited by marine species; it is enjoyable when it represents a toy or gift. 

These multiple valuation regimes also offer insights into the different care regimes at stake. When taken as an object of study, waste and the complexities it generates create insights into intricate relationships, multi-dimensionalities, valuation regimes, purity politics and innovative capacities that are set in place. Waste is inspirational in following human and more-than-human actors across places and spaces, investigating the times and tempos of matter, the infrastructures built that handle waste and the visible and invisible labour involved. Following this, waste is importantly never “out of place” but, as Liboiron rightfully argued – in reference to Mary Douglas work – always in place (2019); an in-placeness which can open up the power imbalances, colonial and postcolonial relationships, gendered politics, naturalized dichotomies and affectedness(es). 

Long story short: this issue is dedicated to waste as a matter of concern. Authors in the STS Live Section have attended to waste as garbage incinerators and the relationality of emotions and knowledge that is created by burning waste and the resulting slag; waste as part and result of our social media practices and the innovative capacities of a solarpunk approach for social media; the intertwinement and plastic waste and compost materials as a temporal relationship; the limits of plastic’s plasticity and its (im)mutability with a glance on the Indian city Jajiwal, and the social, political and epistemic dimensions of plastic; and the regimes of waste making dependent on its origin such as household and municipial waste and how one can reflect ones own researching gaze when creating waste categories. 

Relatedly, the Cherish not Perish section focusses on the upcoming book by Les Levidov entitled Beyond Climate Fixes: From Public Controversy to System Change, in which the author  attends to waste treatment, as a case to critique techno-market fixes to climate change and advocates academic-activist co-production as a way towards systems change.

We also want to take this opportunity to announce some changes in the EASST Review team. We thank our editor and esteemed colleague Vincenzo Pavone who stepped down from his editorial role, for his work on the Review over the past years. Consequently, and as we are also nearing the end of our term as editors in the upcoming year, we are looking for new EASST Review editors to strengthen the team and you can find the call for applications in this edition. Contributions to the EASST community are more important than ever, considering today’s societal challenges and the need to comment and moderate reflections on these, and we encourage everyone interested to apply. 

The Spring 2023 issue of the EASST Review will host reflections on research cultures and research practices, not limited to but also focusing on our own discipline. We encourage STS scholars of all levels to engage in mindful, creative and constructive dialogues to reflect on how researchers live and work and how we imagine our work and research cultures to be and become. 

But first: enjoy the end of 2022 and let’s keep the intricate relationships of waste in mind when unwrapping gifts. 

Sarah Schönbauer

On behalf of the Editorial team

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