Brief background of the meanings of rubbish and value. What issues the essay will address. Paragraphs 2 & 3
Material Lives and Zygmunt Bauman (Hetherington) which introduces idea of consumer society Paragraph 4
Answers from a report called ‘The Food We Waste’ (WRAP, 2008a, 2008b) Statistics about rubbish and consumer society
Vivien Brown and her question on ‘Where does rubbish go?’ Explore ideas about wasteful society and the damage on the environment Paragraphs 6 & 7
Michael Thompson and his book on ‘Rubbish Theory’ - a topic of great importance
Need to summarise both sets of arguments about the value of rubbish. Overall thoughts
‘Rubbish has no value’. Identify the arguments for and against this view.
What is rubbish? A question asked by many and answered in a variety of ways, some in which I hope this essay will answer. If you check a dictionary; one might define rubbish as ‘waste material’ and ‘worthless, useless, or unwanted matter’. Rubbish to some is something that has no value; it is of disvalue. The concept of value can take on different senses: value can refer to the usefulness of something (use value) or it can refer to how something is viewed as worthwhile for its own sake (intrinsic value) (Brown, 2009, in Taylor, Hinchliffe, Clarke and Bromley, 2009, p.105). Arguments about the value of rubbish have always and will always exist, every side has a reason for their view some in which I hope to be able to explain.
Zygmunt Bauman believes that consumer society is increasingly becoming characterised by the consumption of material goods and services (Hetherington, 2009, in Taylor, Hinchliffe, Clarke and Bromley, 2009, p.20). In the part on ‘Material Live’ it tells us of how the making of society involves not only relations between people, but also relations between people and things and their environments; how society forms not just by humans but by material objects and the environment. It all begins with consumer society and the people who choose consuming and shopping. People are now starting to define themselves less by their jobs and more by what they consume – this is because affluence is greater and people are starting to become equal in what they consume; they are able to buy the same kind of produce and luxury as the rich in replace of something else such as food.
Furthermore another reason for this claim could be that while ‘Material Live’ (2009) was being written, the UK was entering a deep recession causing certain items to become of greater demand due to mass consumption and cheapness, more was bought leading to more rubbish and wastage. Additionally, rubbish is being caused by excessive packaging, increased disposability and the wider product choice you are being given from the supermarkets for instance Tesco’s and Asda.
We as a nation waste tonnes of rubbish every year; a report called ‘The Food We Waste’ (WRAP, 2008a, 2008b) presents evidence that as much as one third of the food bought in the UK each year is thrown away – that is about 6.7million tonnes of food. Food waste is only part of household rubbish; in UK households threw away almost 30 million tonnes of rubbish, the majority because of mass consumption due to affluence as seen above and in ‘Material Lives’ e.g. disposable nappies – They are cheaper due to rising earnings between labour-intensive and labour-saving activities because it becomes cheaper to throw away an item and to buy a new one than it is to have it repaired or re-used all the time, this may be valued highly but over the years it is creating colossal waste. In the past few decades, the world's demand for the very best electronics such as TVs and computer has gone through the roof and, inevitably, more waste has started to accumulate. As China and India modernize and follow different trends, the worldwide generation of electronic waste has hit astronomical proportions; to recycle these kinds of products is dangerous however it is not us in Britain who has do this as you will read below.
Economist Vivien Brown (2009, pp.104-143) states that the parts of consumption that most of us choose not to think about is rubbish. We have to buy things in order to dispose and create waste, but where does it go? Where it goes provides us with a sense of winners and losers; we export some of our rubbish to China, India and elsewhere, when it is received by these countries they sometimes recycle it and re-use; but the electronics have to be taken apart securely due to their toxins; this can be very dangerous to the labourers. In London the rubbish is taken to an incinerator facility and more rubbish is brought up the Thames on barges. Rubbish can also be taken to landfill sites; however landfill sites already cover 109 square miles of the UK with an extra 16 million tonnes of rubbish being added each year. Some recycling also takes place, though whenever there is any unwanted fridges and other metal goods they are shipped to China for scrapping. Some of this scrap metal returns to Britain to be re-used (BBC Learning Zone Programmes, 2012).We can be seen as the winners and they the losers. Many socialists can see that we are becoming a wasteful society that is damaging the environment and leaving a bad effect not only on us but our future generations, we are creating more costs by the damage we are causing on the environment and it won’t be us paying but our next generations.
Michael Thompson wrote in his book ‘Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value’ (1979, in Taylor, Hinchliffe, Clarke and Bromley, 2009, pp.122-127) that rubbish can be categorised; one moment you decide it is rubbish then you choose that it is no longer rubbish so you keep it, they move from being ‘transient items into objects of durable value’ (Thompson, 1979, in Taylor, Hinchliffe, Clarke and Bromley, 2009, p.125). Thompson’s theory explains how rubbish can be made and then unmade meaning that some things that are of transient -value can decrease and become rubbish but it can then increase in value over time and become durable – he supports the theory with the example of the Victorian Stevengraph which is shown in figure 4 (Thompson, 1979, in Taylor, Hinchliffe, Clarke and Bromley, 2009, p.123-4). It shows us the change in an object’s value as it moves from transient to durable via rubbish. The line depicting an objects value first falls then effectively becomes zero, and finally rises. It illustrated how an object moves from transient to durable.
Table 1 shows the percentage of the UK household expenditure in the years 1957 and 2006 (Brown, 2009, in Taylor, Hinchliffe, Clarke and Bromley, 2009, p.110). By reading the table you can see that the expenditure of luxuries has risen whereas buying food and non-alcoholic drinks has declined, compared to that of 1957 when the expenditure of food was double of what it is now. The majority of services that has risen from 1957 to 2006 are that of non-necessities such as meals out, hair dressing and entertainment. Moreover, Table 1 gives us some evidence of the changes with affluence that brings about mass consumption.
The relationship between rubbish and value is a complex and complicated one. The well-known proverb stating that “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure” highlights how the standard of value is defined differently by each of us. Rubbish can have value to certain people and in certain situations. As a consumer society, many products have now become disposable and quickly become rubbish before being replaced rather than repaired. However, some of our rubbish is of great value as it is recycled and therefore aids society.
Word Count: 1175
‘Evidence in the Social Sciences’ (2009) Making Social Lives [Audio CD 1], Milton Keynes, The Open University
Staples, M., Meegan, J., Jeffries, E. And Bromley, S. (2009) Introducing the Social Sciences: Learning Companion 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University
Taylor, S., Hinchliffe, S., Clarke, J. and Bromley, S. (eds.) (2009) Introducing the Social Sciences: Making Social Lives, Milton Keynes, The Open University ‘The Food We Waste’ (WRAP, 2008a, 2008b)
BBC Learning Zone Programmes (2012) What happens to the rubbish we produce? , available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/what-happens-to-the-rubbish-we-produce/7362.html (Accessed 23 July 2012)