Berkeley Talks: The global politics of waste

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man riding bike in China carrying cardboard

A man recycles cardboard in Zhouzhuang, China. (Photo by Arend via Flickr)

“All waste is global,” said Kate O’Neill, a professor in the the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, at a campus event in February. “What we throw away has value. What we throw away often travels the globe. And that’s not just the things we know about like electronic wastes, but also plastics… and things like cars, used cars, secondhand cars, clothes, bikes — even discarded food — will actually travel to some other countries, someplace where it may or may not be used…”

Portrait of Kate O'Neill smiling

Kate O’Neill is a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley and author of the 2019 book Waste. (UC Berkeley photo)

Author of the 2019 book Waste, O’Neill gave a lecture, sponsored by Berkeley’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), on Feb. 5 about how the things we throw away go through entire lifecycles after we toss them. And she discusses how China’s 2017 decision to stop importing paper and plastic scrap in the condition it had been has disrupted the global waste economy and changed how communities around the world recycle.

Listen to full lecture by Kate O’Neill, followed by a Q&A with the audience, in Berkeley Talks podcast episode #81: “The global politics of waste.