My focus in this article will be to discuss the idea of “waste as commons”, in essence applying the notion of “the commons” to the streams of organic waste flowing through an urban ecosystem. While presently this waste is abundant, this may not remain the case as trends towards neoliberalism and privatization progress. Food waste that is presently free-for-the-taking may be prevented from being so as businesses and residents become bound to exclusive waste hauling contractual obligations. Already this trend is observable as the commercial composting sector is growing and larger companies seek to consolidate their control over this resource. Much of this would likely be diverted into large anaerobic digesters, technologically sophisticated systems owned by private businesses or municipalities that generate revenues along with an inferior grade residue unfit for soil generation. Laws and regulations may be passed that prevent small scale and community-based composting initiatives from continuing to legally operate, as well as prohibiting back yard composting. It is my belief that the “right to compost” should be considered along with other “right to the city” demands, as well as being regarded as an important matter of environmental justice. The ability of citizens to compost their own wastes and create fertilizer for vegetable production must be upheld as a fundamental to securing socially and ecologically just and resilient cities.
I wish to make clear that in no way do I intend to dismiss or ignore the long and important history of environmental justice struggles related to waste in urban areas. Battles over the placement of waste infrastructure, as well as a city’s responsibility to collect waste, have been and continue to be fought in inner-city neighborhoods throughout the world. Low-income communities have had to bear the brunt of exposure to noxious and toxic emissions from landfills, incinerators, sewage treatment facilities, and transfer stations: waste facilities to which the wealthy contribute to disproportionately. This has only intensified in the Global South as electronic waste disposal disproportionately impacts impoverished communities. While these ongoing struggles are of critical importance to establishing social and ecological justice in cities, they are largely (and by necessity) reactive in nature. In keeping with the primary focus of urban ecosystem justice to focus on the equitable distribution of both environmental harms and amenities, and to explore possibilities for proactive environmental justice action with a strong citizen centered component, I have chosen to focus on the topic of organics composting .