Nature, Technology, and the Acknowledgment of Waste

in Nature and Culture
Author: Wolfgang Krohn
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This article presents a long-term study of German waste management policies and technologies as they developed during the second half of the twentieth century. The postwar "waste avalanche" called for quick and crude political decisions. Unexpected environmental side effects prompted new governance and leads through six different stages of policies based on scientific models and advanced technologies—all of them controversial. The case exemplifies a typical condition of a knowledge society. Politics demands a reliable knowledge base for rational decision making. Science, however, supplies open-ended research and increases uncertainties. Turning the dilemma into an operational perspective, I suggest speaking of processes of real-world experimentation with waste. The transformation of waste from something to be ignored and disregarded into an epistemic object of concern is bound to experimenting with existing and newly designed waste sites as well as with socio-technical management systems. The study focuses on the development in Germany. Its general features, however, are characteristic for comparable industrial societies.