Building utopia with tomorrow’s trash: formal and informal infrastructures for organics recycling in New York City

Schaffer, Guy Drumheller
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Kinchy, Abby J.
Breyman, Steve
Fortun, Michael
High, Kathryn
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Science and technology studies
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In this dissertation, I describe the interactions between informal infrastructures for community composting and micro-hauling, and the formal organics recycling system implemented by the City. I do this through a detailed consideration of three systems: citywide organics collection, community compost, and the not-for-profit hauling service, BK ROT. In answering my central question—how do informal infrastructures create changes in formal systems?—I also describe the way that the field of organics recycling in New York City has reflected broader trends in neoliberal waste management, and how these kinds of shifts both limit the possibilities of waste management and create opportunities for alternative systems. Responding to authors and policy-makers who suggest that these small local systems often fail to make material differences in waste systems, I pay close attention to the role of affect and embodied experience of community compost, and suggest that community compost projects cultivate feelings of hope and even utopia, and that these experiences have a role in changing waste systems.
August 2016
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Dept. of Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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