Rubbish is the 'invisible part of consumption' (Brown, 2009, p103).
The definition of rubbish via the dictionary is something that is 'worthless, unwanted material that is rejected or thrown out;' (Dictionary. com, July 2012). It is something that no one wants and 'ought to be out of the way and out of sight. ' (Brown, 2009, p103).
This is a normative view of rubbish, determining 'right principles for action and guiding people’s decisions on what they ought to do' (Brown, 2009, p105). From this definition, we could describe rubbish as something that has no value.Things can be valued for their usefulness and said to have a 'use value', or value can be determined 'intrinsically' by referring to 'how esteemed or viewed as worthwhile' something is (Brown, 2009, p105). Furthermore, there is an economic value of rubbish through price, and the idea of social value, referring to the benefits or costs to an individual and society.
Value can take different senses, such as above, at different times and is socially constructed, therefore can change depending on social circumstances.Rubbish is inevitably linked to these changes. In this essay I shall attempt to express the process of devaluation and revaluation of rubbish, from a sociological, economical and environmental perspective, to express the relationship between rubbish and value. Rubbish and 'waste is a function of what we do as individuals' (‘Rubbish society’, 2009, track 1) and is inevitably linked with mass consumption. Society and individuals devalue rubbish because 'rubbish has no value to whoever throws it away' (Brown, 2009, p118).The effects of busier lifestyles has lead to a more labour saving society, 'people’s time and labour become more highly valued,' (Brown, 2009, p112).
This shift has lead to an increase of 'disposability of products' (Brown, 2009, p112). This in turn generates more rubbish or waste, demonstrated with the introduction of disposable nappies, also affected by the fact that women have more employment opportunities and less spare time. New household appliances that save time, and packaging of foods, makes shopping and cooking quicker and easier.Advances in technology are also affected by labour saving concepts, in that it ends up cheaper to buy a new model of an existing product, then it is to get the old one repaired.
Consumption, affluence, and fashion developments feeds the concept of conspicuous consumption, with new designs and symbolic 'high status luxury items' (Hetherington, 2009, p32) in the form of new appliances and technologies, being desirable to the seduced (Bauman, cited in Hetherington, 2009, p25) and more economical then getting the old repaired.Conspicuous consumption leads to the devaluing of rubbish through replacing old with new, but it also ties in nicely with Thompson's 'rubbish theory'. Antiques and collectables are viewed with higher status as they move from 'transient' to 'durables' and their value increases. Thompson explains how rubbish is a transforming process, and is in itself a changing concept. He explains that sociologically, rubbish can be revalued, with reference to 'aesthetic revaluation' (Brown, 2009, p130) and 'eccentric' revaluations' (Brown, 2009, p126).Thompson's notion of zero-value is elastic, but explains how valuing rubbish changes over time, and how something with no value now, could potentially have greater social value in the future.
Thompson provides both a sociological view of rubbish and an economic explanation of the valuation of rubbish also, with reference to the market model. This explains the relationship between supply and demand and the effects of the value of items through market price. If something is in heavy demand and low supply, then the price will increase, and 'a fall in market price is the result of a decrease in demand relative to supply' (Brown, 2009, p129).For Thompson, zero-value transition is essential for this transformation, as transient items loose demand they stop supply of the item during the zero-value period.
When demand then increases again, and supply is fixed, price then rises, and the item becomes durable. Rubbish has no value economically because no one wants it (demand is low) even though it is in plentiful supply, meaning the market price is low and therefore of little value. Revaluation of rubbish in an economic sense is possible through the process of recycling and refinement of rubbish for raw materials in the 'rubbish business' (Brown, 2009, p118).Rubbish can be valued by others, such as old cars and appliances being reused for scrap metal. In this sense rubbish is revalued by others as demand for certain rubbish increases relative to supply. Through passing on rubbish to others it gains value, 'Donations to charity shops, passing on to old friends and family members, car boots sales, internet auction sites such as ebay, and local second hand shops' (Brown, 2009, p120) allows unwanted goods to be channelled to where they can be revalued.
Junk art also adds to the revaluing of rubbish economically, by creating art out of rubbish and revaluing it aesthetically, like Thompson's 'durables', generating a market price for something that was of no value. An example of this is Tracy Emin's 'unmade bed' and Chris Jordon's 'plastic cups' 2008 (Brown, 2009, p132). During my art course I attended we were encouraged to use items of little value and high supply to get creative and produce items with use value, such as using coat hangers to create interior screens.So what about the rubbish that can’t be recycled easily? These items have no value in an environmental and social sense, and even have negative value in some respects. Individual costs of taking rubbish to the tip, or getting the items being recycled to where they need to be, such as transportation have costs called negative externalities. In this respect the original price of an item does not account for the cost of production, consumption, and disposal of the item.
Industrial and social negative externalities can include international costs, such as the 'Emma Maersk' shipping rubbish back to the production line in China, where their society is more labour intensive and therefore cheaper to refine more complicated rubbish such as mobile phone components. This means rubbish has a negative value for those disposing it, or wishing to recycle items that would harm the environment as they need to account for the cost of disposal, supporting the argument that rubbish has no value or can be devalued.However, the rubbish which cannot be recycled easily can also be revalued through incineration and the production of electricity. ‘Resource recovery and energy from waste’ (‘Rubbish society’, 2009, track 1) can be viewed as a revaluation of rubbish, using it to produce things of use value with a market price, through the demand for energy. However, continuing on from the environmental issues devaluing rubbish, these processes of incineration and generating energy may not reflect the environmental cost of pollution.
If energy from waste is be used, it needs to account for all the externalities, including the negative effects towards the environment. It has been suggested that there needs to be a revaluation of market prices to ensure the most polluting products reflect all the costs of production, consumption and disposal. In this sense, all rubbish has value, even if that value is negative, because all waste needs to be disposed of correctly to not have an effect on the environment.In conclusion, through understanding the arguments for devaluing and revaluing of rubbish from a sociological, economic and environmental perspective, we can see that rubbish can been seen both with value and without, depending on peoples attitudes and perspective towards rubbish. These attitudes are dependent on many factors socially because both value and rubbish are socially constructed. I think a better question in relation to rubbish would be a question of sustainability, and whether consumption and market prices take into account the negative externalities of their practice, which effects everyone socially and globally.