TLR — Turning Livelihoods to Rubbish? Impacts of Formalisation, Financialisation and Technologization of Waste Management on the Urban Poor

Project Description

This three-year project examines global trends in waste management which are reducing access to the livelihoods generated from waste for the urban poor. Environmental concerns from different actors, and awareness of the financial benefits of waste are contributing to the formalization, the financialisation, and the use of technology to replace the labour of handling waste. This could improve health for the urban poor, but also undermine livelihoods developed around waste and recycling and feeds into a wider arena of governance responsibilities.

Changing prices for recycled materials, Cape Town, 2017.

We examine specific interventions in South African waste management, from collaborative efforts between state and civil society to contested issues of using incineration to burn waste. In parallel we trace national-to-international waste business/state capital relations, in particular those linked to clean development mechanisms. Together this seeks to understand competing claims to waste and the governance processes through which these claims are adjudicated. In collaboration with partners we have done desk-top research on the situation in Ghana and Uganda to increase the comparability of our research to low-income countries of Southern Africa. Theoretically we draw upon research in urban political ecology and development studies.

The project is based at the School of Environment at the University of Manchester in collaboration with the Department of Geography at the University of Florida, the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town and KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory at KTH Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The project runs from 2016 to end of 2018 with fieldwork starting in 2017. The research team will engage stakeholders through two workshops in 2017 and 2018 and a regional workshop in 2018. Research outputs include video and digital story telling for wider dissemination.

Project Resources

Kruger, Yvette, Nate Millington, and Henrik Ernstson. 2019. Turning Livelihoods to Waste? (Documentary film, 35 minutes). South Africa & UK: Situated Urban Political Ecologies.

Pedagogical Case Studies (Available March 2019)

Academic Journal Articles

Policy Brief (Available March 2019)

Presentations and Publications

TLR Project Workshops

Nate Millington & Kathleen Stokes, Proceedings from 2017 Project Workshop

Erik Swyngedouw, Henrik Ernstson, Mary Lawhon, Nate Millington, Kathleen Stokes, February 17 TLR Workshop 

Presentations from TLR Final Stakeholder Workshop (August 2018)

Henrik Ernstson, Workshop Introduction

Nate Millington, Salvage Accumulation and the South African Wastescape: Preliminary Reflections

Henrik Ernstson & Erik Swyngedouw, Wasting CO2: Preliminary Reflections on the Remarkable Success of a Climate Governance Failure. Or: On the Efforts of Linking International Financial Flows with Waste Flows in South Africa

Anesu Makina, Understanding informal waste picking using an agonistically transgressive appropriations framework

Andreas Bracht, Increased Value Participation of small and informal actors through the establishment of governmental policy – The case of e-waste in South Africa

Research Team

Principal Investigator: Professor Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester)

Co-I: Dr. Mary Lawhon (The Florida State University)

Co-I: Dr. Henrik Ernstson (ACC, University of Cape Town, KTH Stockholm)

Postdoctoral Researcher: Dr. Nate Millington (African Centre for Cities / University of Manchester)

PhD student: Ms Kathleen Stokes (University of Manchester)

PhD student: Ms Anesu Makina (Florida State University)

Funder: ESRC-DFID (Poverty Alleviation; Ref: ES/M009408/1)

Project time: 2016, 2017, 2018.