China's Ban on “Foreign Garbage:” Rethinking Recycling as Toxic Matter Out of Control
About the talk:
In 2018 China began implementing a ban on imports of “foreign garbage,” impacting recycling programs around the world that rely on Chinese markets. However, Chinese waste politics engages with recycling not only as a polluting globalized industry, but also as a necessary element of urban environmental modernity. I probe this contradictory engagement with an ethnographic account of one entrepreneur’s struggles to bring recycling to a southwestern Chinese city, and by showing how his projects are undermined by the anti-foreign waste movement, exemplified by the film Plastic China (2016). While a common mantra of the recycling coalition is that “garbage is just a misplaced resource,” a different message is emerging from anti-foreign waste actors: that recycling is often just garbage displaced in space/time. Thus, in addition to “matter out of place,” Chinese waste politics demands an attention to toxic matter out of control—harmful matter that cycles through biophysical processes which exceed human knowledge and defy infrastructures of containment
About the speaker:
Adam Liebman is a postdoctoral fellow with Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies and received his PhD in sociocultural anthropology at UC Davis. He is currently working on a book manuscript titled Turning Trash into Treasure: Shadow Economies and Toxic Ecologies in Postsocialist China. Ethnographically situated in Kunming, the burgeoning capital of Yunnan Province, the book amplifies lessons from Chinese waste politics to (1) illuminate how proliferating waste matter is enlisted in struggles to make money and live morally in a rapidly changing China, (2) critically examine western notions of waste and recycling, and (3) pose new questions about how toxicity, value, and power differently flow with and out from movements of waste across borders and oceans.