Since industrialisation started in the mid-18th century, mankind is an increasingly potent geological force on planet Earth.
The rate by which we mine, blast, dump, crush, extract and exhaust the Earth’s crust is now so large that the annual shift of material by humans is three times larger than the amounts transported to the oceans by all the world’s rivers. Following from this extended transfer process, it has been argued that the planet as a whole has gone through a (socio-)geological shift and entered a new era: the Anthropocene.
The first part of this subproject deals with two responsive strategies to the altered geological configuration of planet Earth: landfill mining and urban mining. Both of these are to be considered as alternatives to traditional mining, whose longer term prospects is a steady decline as the mineral veins found in mountainous rocks will be continuously depleted (Ayers, 1997). In the case of landfill mining, massive amounts of materials are abandoned in landfills, the end station in the material flow. A significant share of this waste consists of valuable materials such as metals and plastics. Around the world, several billion tonnes of iron and 10’s of millions of tonnes of copper are assumed to be hidden in the dumps. Extracting these resources would have a number of environmental advantages since the immense energy required to extract these resources from the Earth crust would partly be avoided. Moreover, extraction-related conflicts over land use would be avoided, and the risks associated with leaking heavy metals and other pollutants could be mitigated. Despite these advantages, landfills remain mostly unmined.
In the second case of urban mining, we see the lionshare of raw materials extracted from the Earth’s crust end up in cities. Indeed, some metals are now likelier to be encountered in urban environments than in mountains. Urban mining turns this material characteristic of cities into a strategy and regards them as a potential resource base available for re-use or recycling. Especially interesting are material stocks that have been taken out-of-use but have not yet entered the waste sector. Such ”hibernating” stocks can be discarded TV-sets and mobile phones in people’s closets, but also derelict parts of urban infrastructure. When “mined,” the metal extraction from such stocks is substantially less environmentally degrading than traditional mining operations. While this situation (first noted by Jane Jacobs in 1969) has led environmental engineering researchers to increasingly map and assess these material stocks, this results in an incomplete framing of the issue as a resource inefficiency-problem, leading solely to techno-economic answers. The cultural and political, or socio- practice-related dimensions of hibernating stocks are unexamined. This part of the sub-project formulates a political ecology for the urban underground, scrutinizing the fluctuating characteristics of hibernating material stocks and examining how the perceived networked condition of cities is challenged by an urban mining perspective.
These perspectives on urban mining and landfill mining are twinned with an ongoing project with Key Collaborating Partner, the “Canada’s Waste Flows” project. In a similarly transdicsiplinary vein, this project further examines the discourses of waste in Canada, with attention to municipal, industrial and nuclear waste, but a specific focus on Alaska. Resonant with the “urban mining” perspective of the LiU group, the twinned partner is concerned with the ‘hidden from view’ aspect of these waste forms and the myriad significant consequences for human health and the environment they pose. Moreover, the discourses around these waste forms are narrowly techno-scientific, to be addressed by techno-scientific solutions that largely exclude broad socio-ethical considerations. Like the LiU partners, this aspect of the subproject is specifically interested in the problem of a post- political approach to environmental—as specifically waste—issues, and seeks to complement this with deeper investigations through humanistic lens.
Participants: Per Frändegård, Nils Johansson, Joakim Krook, Niclas Svensson, all of Industrial Environmental Engineering, Linköping University; Björn Wallsten, Technology and Social Change, Linköping University; Myra Hird, Queen’s University, Canada; and Peter Van Wyck, Concordia University, Canada.