Not Just Recycling the Crisis

Producing Value at a Soweto Garbage Dump

In: Historical Materialism
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  • 1 School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, and the Society, Work and Development Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

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This article contributes to debates on the relationship between waste and value by exploring how the revaluation of waste at a dump in Soweto, South Africa, was transformed during the 2008 economic crisis. It critically engages Herod, Pickren, Rainnie & McGrath-Champ’s differentiation between ‘devalorisation’ due to material degradation and ‘devaluation’ due to prices being too low for recycling to be profitable, in order to develop three arguments. First, it is necessary to recognise how political mobilisation by reclaimers shapes the conditions for devaluation by affecting local prices for recyclables. Second, reclaimers’ struggles to monopolise control over waste as they govern their labour process may lead to materials that could be profitably reclaimed remaining wasted. Third, waste is not only revalued through global production networks. Analysing why reclaimers choose to revalue waste through either formal or informal circuits provides insights into how the economy is constituted and affected by crisis in postcolonial contexts.

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    Group interview #12, 27 August 2009.

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    Interview with Reclaimer #57, 8 January 2010.

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    Interview with Reclaimer #55, 5 January 2010.

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    Interview with Buyer #2, 17 February 2010.

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