Sarah A. Moore is Professor, Associate Chair and Director of Graduate Studies Geography. She researches policies, practices and economics of waste. She is co-author of Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction (3rd ed. 2022).
More than one million tons of hazardous waste are traded among Canada, Mexico, and the United States each year. In addition to managing a significant proportion of their own waste, all three North American countries are now net hazardous waste importers. In this talk, I examine how hazardous waste is managed both a risk to local communities, governed by local, state/provincial and national institutions and an internationally traded good, the transboundary movement of which is facilitated by supranational agreements such as NAFTA. I trace how this imbrication of environmental risk and economic value help to produce distinct flows of hazardous materials across North America.
More broadly, I draw on Marxist and psychoanalytic analyses to connect refuse and refusal and argue that, rather than an afterthought, waste is a necessary component of modern capitalism whose necessity is denied by claims about recycling and circular economies; repressed by distancing and removal (out of sight, out of mind); and dismissed as an unfortunate externality. I further argue, that it is in part these processes of denial, repression and dismissal of the fundamental importance of waste that positions it as a site of radical political potential for environmental and social justice.