Should it stay or should it go? Negotiating value and waste in the divestment of household objects

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This thesis concerns the practices of material divestment for household durable objects; with the aim that understanding these practices will assist in making them more sustainable in the future. The role of consumption, waste, and material divestment is discussed in the context of global disparities in resource use and living standards. Informed by a theoretical framework based on social practices, the role of the individual is de-centered, with focus shifting to competencies, meanings, materials and rules. These elements of practice are also subject to variation in scale, intensity, trajectory and form. Understanding everyday practice in this way allows the research to conceptualize dynamics of change as re-configurations of the elements of practice. Empirical investigation is conducted through semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and media and document analysis. Households and providers of divestment related services in Australia and the Netherlands are consulted to develop a grounded theory account of the systems of material divestment. This approach yielded four different systems of practice: retainment, altruistic divestment, return-oriented divestment and ridding. The negotiation of value is found to be central to all practices of divestment, albeit varying in different contexts and spaces. Practices of storing, making-do, treasuring, donation, passing-on, online and auction selling, garage sales, decluttering, leaving-out, and disposing are described as distinct, yet interrelated avenues for divesting durable household objects. The potential for divestment practices to be made more sustainable is discussed by way of initiatives that would promote a re-engagement with waste materials through increased visibility and reduced distancing with practitioners. The alignment of practices is also advocated as a means to promote material and object re-use, thereby reducing overall waste generated. As trends toward economies of access emerge, collaborative forms of material use and appear to offer new ways of promoting sustainable consumption. Further research avenues are explored, with a renewed and revised concept of waste, and its implications for public policy.
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