Environmental Humanities & Waste event + Excursion

With Alice Twemlow, Rachele Dini, and Dave Hakkens

Friday 10 February, 2017

At this event, we invite you to confront and ponder an object that we usually wish dispose of quickly. To examine waste in all its materiality, we invite 15 people to join us on a morning excursion to AEB, an Energy from Waste plant in Amsterdam’s harbour. In the afternoon, three speakers will explore the topic of waste from an environmental humanities perspective: Alice Twemlow, author of Sifting the Trash: A History of Design Criticism in the US and the UK Since 1950; Rachele Dini, author of Consumerism, Waste and Re-use in Twentieth-century Fiction; and the Dutch artist Dave Hakkens, who designed the Precious Plastic project.

“Waste is becoming more and more interesting”
—Vilem Flusser, Czech philosopher


Excursion to Waste Management Plant AEB:
9.00-12.00 hrs
AEB Amsterdam
Australiëhavenweg 21
1045 BA Amsterdam

Waste Event
15.30-17.30hrs, with closing drinks
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Main Building, room 5A-33

aebExcursion to a waste management plant

NB: The excursion is now fully booked. You will be added to the waiting list if you register for the excursion.
In the morning, you are welcome to join us on an exploratory excursion to a waste management plant, AEB Amsterdam. We can take 15 people, so please register quickly. After an introduction to the site, we will be taken on a tour to see the “Meetwacht” and the “Hoog Rendement centrale.” AEB converts waste into sustainable electricity, district heating and high-quality construction materials, and are developing plans to recover more raw materials for re-use in the future. They are “a hub in smart cities and biobased economies.” AEB is easily reached using public transport, and the excursion is free of charge. Please register below to attend, places are limited.

Waste Event

After an introduction by Julia Kantelberg, student member of our board, three speakers will explore Waste from the perspective of literature, and design theory and practice. Analyzing the matter of waste and its representations, they will make you think anew about the things we dispose of.

Rachele Dini
The radical potential of “this unattractive occupation”
Waste collection and/in anti-capitalist literary experimentation

We are accustomed, today, to the lexicon of sustainability and the imperative to recycle: 21st-century consumerism dictates that we buy “responsibly”; that we exchange our “pre-loved” garments, and encourage our friends to shop at ethically sound outlets. Before the politics and commerce of sustainability however came the aesthetics of re-use. When consumerism was just emerging, experimental artists and writers were already exploring how trash might shed light on the ramifications of consumptions, and in fact counter the West’s love of the new. In that sense, much of the way we talk about waste today is not innovative in the least, but an echo – a recycling! – of tropes and ideas found in literature. This talk gives an overview of some of the dramatic ways in which experimental writers have sought to challenge consumerism through waste, and have radically re-defined literature in the process.

The ideas presented here are taken from my new book, Consumerism, Waste and Re-use in Twentieth-century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-Garde (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), but can be seen as part of a broader effort within literary studies to better understand waste’s role in the cultural imagination. My book in fact follows works by John Scanlan (2004), Will Viney (2013), Sarah K Harrison (2015), and Brian Thill (2015). The proliferation of such investigations reflects the expansion of the environmental humanities as a discipline, but also a growing awareness of the multi-faceted nature of waste in its various forms: that it is at once an ecological problem, a political symbol and an integral part of us as humans.

Alice Twemlow
Making Waste: Unearthing the Metaphors, Values, and Temporalities of Product Design and its Criticism

Product design criticism is usually characterized by its concentration on the new; it reinforces the fetishization of box-freshness by continuing to evaluate goods that are just off the production line conveyor belt or, worse, just off the press release, as framed and presented by their designers, manufacturers, retailers, and promoters. By doing so, it contributes to the velocity of the production–consumption–disposal cycle, and to the volume of the 1.3 billion tons of municipal solid waste produced globally per year. When product design is considered from the perspective of the waste it will inevitably become, then, as design theorist Ben Highmore has observed, “it is hard not to see global warming and climate change as a consequence of a variety of design processes, design values and design products.”

A gathering acknowledgment of the design industry’s complicity in climate change is generating demand for consideration of other moments in a product’s lifecycle, apart from its birth, such as how it might be used by someone over time, what happens after its period of usefulness is over, and when it is disposed of. A closer examination of what happens when a designed product becomes trash, of the social behaviors, politics, infrastructures, mechanisms, and economies that shape and gather around refuse and its disposal, could surely enrich our understanding of design culture and provide a much-needed critique of currently dominant labels that mislead with their deflection of attention away from the physicality of waste, such as the supposed immateriality of information, the “cloud,” service design, “innovation culture,” and the “creative economy.”

Through its excavation of historical instances when critics attempted to question design’s impact on the physical environment and the social psyche and its consideration of some experimental modes of practice and speculative projects, this paper offers an array of precedents for how product design and its criticism might be conducted in the future.

Dave Hakkens
Precious Plastic


Dave Hakkens will present his design projects, which aim to reduce waste. He is well-known for inspiring modular design in mobile phones in his Phoneblocks project, aiming to change the way electronics are made to create less waste. His prize-winning Precious Plastic project shows people how they can recycle plastic locally and in small-scale projects.



NB: The excursion is now fully booked. You will be added to the waiting list if you register for the excursion.



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