Political Science Faculty Publications and Presentations

Solid waste management practices and their meanings in ecologically conscious households

Document Type


Publication Date



This paper describes the household waste management practices of self-described sustainable households, focusing on the intentional actions the members of these households take to reduce environmental harm. Data from qualitative interviews about household waste management practices related to the disposal of trash, “packaging”, and recycling are analyzed using a Marxist-feminist model of household production. For the households in this study, packaging is a powerful reminder of their collusion with capital, eliciting powerful and unexpected negative reactions in interviews. At the same time, practices that involve allowing organic matter to decompose in the backyard, leaving urine unflushed, or placing human feces in the clothes washing machine or bathtub elicited few negative reactions, and recycling made people feel happy. Packaging and waste are necessary in capitalism because of the spatial division of labor and production, part of the constitutive contradiction between social needs and private production. I show how a division of labor and production that is necessary for accumulation manifests itself in an inherent antagonism toward human well-being in a discussion of the exhaustion, frustration, and conflict generated for highly ecologically oriented parents who are just trying to do their best to live a sustainable life in capitalist society despite the limits to the efficacy of these efforts.


© The Author(s) 2020


Publication Title

Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space