A new book is about to be published — including an article by the Waste Society -research group — edited by Richard Ek and Nils Johansson. Abstract of the article by Veera Kinnunen, Heikki Huilaja, Johanna Saariniemi and Jarno Valkonen below the ad. Strongly recommended read!
ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN IN WASTE ECONOMY
– A case study of waste policy in Finnish Lapland
Veera Kinnunen, Heikki Huilaja, Johanna Saariniemi & Jarno Valkonen
In this article, we follow the tracks of waste closure as it travels from national policy to mundane waste management practices.
During the last 20 years, the Finnish waste legislation has constantly been modified in order to meet the demands of the developing waste policy of the European Union. The completely renewed waste legislation came into operation at the beginning of 2016. The new waste policy is based on the idea of “circular economy” in which waste is understood as by-products waiting to be economically utilised. This has led to a paradoxical situation in which waste has turned from something that there is too much into something that there is not enough. Waste, therefore, has turned into a resource.
In this article, we ask what happens to the environmental concern when it is wrapped inside the economic logics of waste management. We analyse the policy-making process and the implementation of waste policy on three scales: in the national legislative drafting process, in the regional waste management in Lapland, and the consumers’ positioning in relation to waste and the objectives of waste governance. Our data consists of documents of the national legislative drafting process related to waste legislation, and newspaper articles and letters to the editor discussing the regional waste management in Finnish Lapland.
Based on the analysis, we suggest that Waste Economy has offered a sufficiently functioning closure which has succeeded in bringing together even controversial understandings and objectives concerning waste governance. However, there are still certain tensions and controversies that prevent various actors from fully endorsing it. Some of the tensions arise because economical solutions tend to smother the original environmental goals.
Keywords: environmentalism, closure, waste, waste governance, ontological politics, waste policy
Book publishing event: Tervetuloa jäteyhteiskuntaan! Aineellisen ylijäämän kanssa eläminen. (Welcome to Waste Society! Living with Material Overflows) written by Jarno Valkonen, Olli Pyyhtinen, Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen, Veera Kinnunen and Heikki Huilaja.
The book publishing event was organized at the University of Lapland on Friday the 29th of October. Format of the event was slightly unusual, as there were three pre-readers who had been asked to point out one particularly interesting argument or detail of the book. These pre-readers were Ilari Hovila, University Lecturer from the Faculty of Law, specialised in environmental law, Asta Sinervä, student and a member of the Green Office-team of the university and Aleksi I. Pohjola, editor of the Student newspaper of Lapland.
Academic people from professors to students were gathered in a small room, as the twenty or so attendants filled up almost all of the seats. The pre-readers agreed that perhaps the main argument of the book is the critique or problematisation of Circular Economy (CE). Ilari Hovila stated that the concept of CE can be seen as a new form of “green-washing”. CE might offer in certain cases too wide framework, where all types of resource extraction becomes acceptable if we just keep them circling. This of course is not true, because there are no easy solutions of turning waste into resources. For example, currently the incineration plants produce ash as their leftover, and there is a growing need to find solutions how to manage these ashes. Large infrastructural projects, like incineration plants, might produce lock-ins, because there are big investments behind them and they may tie us to a certain policy choice for decades.
Aleksi Pohjola continued that the concept of CE has not been problematised in public discourse. Even services, often considered non-wasteful, depend on a vast network of infrastructures producing big amounts of waste, heat and carbon dioxide. Send one email and you connect instantly to all these. Asta Sinervä said CE legitimises the current economic system based on the expectation of continual growth. However, she continued that CE might create awareness among the ‘waste citizens’, contributing positively in that way.
Aleksi Pohjola also found interesting that waste is relational, as it is defined not by the object itself, but by what the owner of the object intends to do with it. Relations of economic power are also present. For example, a ship brings products to Europe from Asia and returns with recycled waste intended to be processed in the same countries that produced them. Thus, waste trickles from centres to peripheries. The central places can be kept “clean” from waste by taking it away from sight to peripheral or economically unprivileged places.
One of the writers, Professor Olli Pyyhtinen pointed out, that while CE is thought to replicate the cycle of nature, earth is not a closed-loop system. Economic growth creates waste in some form or another, but at the same time, our system needs continual growth. That makes diminishing the amount of waste materials complicated. Professor Jarno Valkonen continued that the idea of a cycle applies only to certain substances. For instance, sewage sludge has not been problematised publicly compared to for example plastics. Valkonen also questioned the importance of the cycle, instead of circling the resources, should we look at consumption as something that needs to be changed.
Shame was also brought up to the conversation. In Sweden, flight-shame has become an important force influencing peoples’ choices. At this moment, we have the right to produce as much waste as we want to but in the future, that might not be the case. Should we then, as citizens, have the duty to feel shame when we produce waste. Professor Suvi Ronkainen pointed out, that the feeling of shame is important, because it might lead to changes in unwanted habits. However, shaming of a person doesn’t usually strengthen her agency. Professor Soile Veijola also said that positive stories work better. At the end, Veijola received a text message from journalist Anna-Stina Nykänen, who has written articles to Helsingin Sanomat in collaboration with the Waste Society- project. Nykänen asked an important question. If we derive our pleasure from consumption, what are the other ways to feel pleasure, enjoyment and delight in the post-consumption era?
In conclusion, the event succeeded perfectly. Pre-readers enlivened the conversation marvellously and even after the bottles of sparkling wine were opened, many attendants stayed and continued as if the weekend was not already looming upon us.
Professor Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen was interviewed by Heikki Laurinolli in Tampere University- publication. He is one of the writers of a new book, Tervetuloa jäteyhteiskuntaan! (Welcome to waste society), with Jarno Valkonen, Olli Pyyhtinen, Veera Kinnunen and Heikki Huilaja, Lehtonen states that circular economy will not, by itself, solve the problem of overconsumption.
There is a publication available to download, dealing with topics of this seminar, edited by Veera Kinnunen and Anu Valtonen.
The editors state that: We hope that the collection of accounts of ethics in this publication invites you to pose open and radical questions about the messiness of living and thinking together on Earth – and beyond. During the past two years, the University of Lapland has, with the help of ESF funding, run a HaiLa-project, which seeks to internationalise and develop doctoral education in Lapland. We have been able to organise doctoral courses taught by highly-recognised scholars representing different fields and seminars like the one we are referring to here. This has enabled a series of corporeal encounters between established academics, PhD students, and lecturers across the globe. This collection of texts is the fruit of these encounters.
Small notes made by Teemu Loikkanen from some of the seminars Keynote -speeches:
Maria Puig de la Bellacasa: Obliged by soils – Ethics of Breakdown
De la Bellacasa begun the presentation asking “a transnational question”: What is the relationship between humans and soil?
De la Bellacasa stated that soil has been neglected in many ways. She is trying to contribute to the betterment of these ecologies that have been affected.
One way to think about these relationships is through care: it is necessary for every human being, but it is not being valued. Care is at the same time precarious labor and practice, affective and aesthetic and ethico-political. Care is never neutral, it is based on relations of gender and power, that’s why it is always political. Feminist politics of care can become disruptive to status quo. Care is contingent: it is morally obliged but also materially necessary. You can choose not to care morally but day-to-day mundane caring is a necessity. How could we re-think care because it is ontologically wired. (Does that mean that it’s meanings and practices can be changed?)
Ecological neglect has many dire consequences. Soil has become only a resource and her work is focused to find another ways to re-connect with it. Affections toward soil are disrupting these relations. We are ethically obliged by soil.
SOIL AS LIFE:
Soil is hidden infrastructure, we have used soil but not thought of it as living worlds which is habituated by many creatures. Visibility = Knowledge = Better care.
Multispecies community is making the soil, creating it all the time. How could we see the soil without digging it up?
Artists can show the soil to us. Then we can ask the question what is made visible and from what standpoint?
The idea about Anthropocene is a colonial notion of taking all the plurality of the planet into one word. Natural world still has power over us, that’s one reason why it is problematic to talk about the Anthropocene. It makes the responds of care to soil invisible. Human-Nature relations has to be re-thought.
SOIL AS CONNECTION:
How does the soil food web work? Humans are a part of it. We are members of that web, teeming with life also. Capitalism sells scarcity, soil projects are trying to create an abundance. Our bodies are our soils. To know the soil you need to be close to it. Soil is matter that is broken down. If there is plastic in it, we have to make science work with us, not only nature. How to break down plastics that is present in the soil and everywhere?
GAY HAWKINS: ETHICAL BLINDNESS – Plastics, disposability and the art of NOT caring
Plastics is a material that has a bad reputation, still every one of us has close relations to it. We have a shared future with plastics. How could we live well together with it? Can we make an ethics of plastic?
Plastic has become thought of as a disposable material, even though it is in most cases actually very durable. In most of the campaigns etc. it is the consumer who should change her habits regarding plastics. The ethical behaviour is awaited of consumer’s behalf.
When we buy, for example, a take-away coffee, the lid has already been categorized as rubbish. It is not that the consumer first consumes the object and then throws it away and that’s thrash, but it is already been excepted to be disposed of, before it is even used. Waste, disposal objects, plastics and consumer items implicitly fold together. Dispose-ability is already present in that item and many others. It is anticipated to be wasted.
The assumption is that when campaigns tell the horrific truth about the amounts of plastics that goes to rubbish, we will change our ways, but even though the information about waste is something that everyone knows, nothing is happening. The responsibility lies in the consumers hands, but plastics is not just an ethical object waiting to be judged, it has agency of it’s own. This is when we look at ethics as an interface and relational activity.
Plastics is a material that governs us. 40-50 % of all the plastics made is used in food packaging. (Jeffrey Meikle: American Plastic 1995). The rise of plastics in the 1950’s was a turning point that changed the food relations completely. Governing here is used in the Foucaldian sense: The small changes in rules and norms make us self-govern through objects. New objects and materials shape our conduct. Self-service and supermarkets were possible only because of plastic packaging, which also provoked disposability. Freedom of choice and consumerism were only possible by the freedom to waste.
Modern Packaging (1957): Packages are made to be thrown away, consumers has to have nonchalant relation to these containers. They started to appear as rubbish from the beginning. This created a consumer with no worries. Importance was put in accessibility, convenience and temporality.
Plasticfreejuly.org was an attempt to turn plastic into political. “Just like Marxist conception of class materialism loses its meaning when it is separated from its relations of struggle”. I. Stagers: Wondering about materialism.
It was not about individual consumers, but a collective event of figuring out how not to be governed by plastics. Plastic is not something we can get away from. Plastic industry is much like Big Tobacco, it has economic power to resist control. We should look at the sites and moments when our relations with plastics are changed. There is bad governance behind the industry’s ability to not take responsibility. We have to think about how we could see plastics as a non-disposable material and give up the idea of purity in nature because we have to live with plastics in the future.
Interview of Tim Ingold by Teemu Loikkanen:
Tim Ingold, one of the most distinguished anthropologist of our time, current chair of social anthropology at University of Aberdeen, first came to Finland 1965, just before the beginning of his university studies. Originally he got interested of the north when he saw the movie Doctor Zhivago, starred by ´lovely´ Julie Christie. Even though the movie is set in Siberia, famous steam locomotive scenes were filmed in Eastern Finland, Joensuu-Nurmes -track. He found a job at the west coast of Norway. Travelling was not easy those days: he took a Russian boat to Finland and hitchhiked to Lapland, where he crossed the border to Norway. Later he came back to participate an international working camp at Eastern Finland, in a place called Tuupovaara. Ingold helped families that had lost their father, (in many occasion to cardiovascular diseases that plagued the area at the time) in haymaking and other chores. That was when he met his wife, actually from Western Finland. Ingold made a decision to complete his ethnographic fieldwork in Finland to be close to his soon-to-be-wife.
The year 1971 Ingold travelled to Lapland and started his research project with the Skolt Sámi people. Young man fell in love with winter, which he thought was the most beautiful time of year. He learned to spend time with himself in the harsh and often solitary conditions – in Lapland the anthropologist have to find life, because things doesn’t just happen in front of her nose. Ingold also acquired knowledge of the self, life, and environment. In hindsight, he thinks that this period had a profound effect of how he experienced life later.
Supporter of Scottish independency, Tim Ingold is worried about the political future. His point of view is that the north has always been international – people have been able to carry on peaceful conversations across the borderlines. Similar experiences bring small numbered populations together. Ingold states that the north should not become a next frontier of neoliberal capitalism. Although in Finland the situation is considerably good, the northern parts of Russia and Canada suffer from substance addictions and their suicide rates are relatively high. Thinking about these issues in contrast with market hype, and the “disneyzation” of the north, big contradiction appears.
Ingold thinks that the situation with Sámi people seems heated, mainly because of land use rights. He sees a lot more tension compared to previous times. Mining industry has been made possible in Lapland through technological evolution and the price hikes of minerals.
Tim Ingold encounters the change of Finnish society in transformation of the countryside landscape. Family farms have made way to big factory farms and cattle has disappeared. Last 25 years his family has spent time in Kohtavaara farm, located in shore of the lake Pielinen. They rent this old farmhouse, which is the best place in the world for Ingold: old sauna, no internet, day starts with a swim. He loves to sit in wooden benches and watch the birch trees. And of course, write his famous books.