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A situated urban political ecology of plastics recycling in Bangkok

This research aims to understand how waste pickers in Bangkok currently operate as key actors in the recycling economy, given the lack of state funding and infrastructure for operationalizing circularity, using a situated urban political ecology (SUPE) approach.

Diane Archer / Published on 3 January 2024

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Adelina, C., Archer, D. (2024). A situated urban political ecology of plastics recycling in Bangkok, Cities, Volume 145, 104671, ISSN 0264-2751.

Plastic waste

Plastic waste and pollution behind collecting barrier in canal of Bangkok.

Photo: justhavealook / Getty Images.

Calls for better municipal waste management practices that are in line with the principles of ‘circular economy’ and ‘circular cities’ abound in many parts of the world including Thailand. The authors conducted surveys and walk-along interviews with waste pickers in two districts of the city. This was supplemented by desk reviews and key informant interviews. Mainly, walking with waste pickers in their daily work routes threw light on the embodiment of waste metabolisms and everyday practices in accessing and metabolizing waste.

They find how waste economies were sustained despite policy neglect through fluid relationships between humans and non-humans that operate within a messy, contested urban space. Negative affect and corporeal harm characterized such a metabolism. Characterization of power in urban political ecology can be strengthened by locating diffuse forms in which power is enacted and by looking at the political dimensions of affect. Unexpected alliances between actors posited counter-narratives to powerful instruments of regulation and global waste flows.

Through the results presented in this paper, they call for UPE scholars to draw from (a) embodied and situated processes and practices in the transformations of socio-natures and (b) spatio-sensorial methods that can trace circulations and metabolisms of socio-natures. They suggest that such a SUPE can underpin grounded projects of bettering human-environment relationships in the age of planetary crisis.

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SEI author

Diane Archer

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Asia

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Topics and subtopics
Economy : Sustainable lifestyles
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SEI Asia

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