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Garbage Matters: A Comparative History of Waste in E. Asia

As archaeologists have repeatedly confirmed, garbage is among humanity’s most prodigious of physical legacies, a valuable source for the study of the past. Separating the unwanted from the desirable and getting rid of waste are part of the central routines of everyday life in every civilization. During the last half century, this obscured aspect of human existence has become increasingly conspicuous.

Under the alarmist rhetoric of environmentalists, the dramatically expanding volume of garbage has become a truly global problem, reaching far beyond the first-world economies of Europe and North America with their long-established consumer markets. As the standard of living in East Asia rises, so does the volume of garbage generated by the new generations of consumers in the region.

The overall aim of this project is to examine waste as a social phenomenon in contemporary East Asia (China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan), and to explore the historical shifts behind the transformation of practices related to the ‘production’ and disposal of garbage since the Second World War.

News & Events

Conference Report: Waste in Asia (ASIEN)

ASIEN journalIn the latest issue of the journal of the German Association for Asian studies (DGA, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Asienkunde), ASIEN, No. 141, Stephanie Assman wrote a conference report on the Waste in Asia conference, held in Leiden in June: read more…

Lecture: the Japanese culture of giving

On the closing day of the popular exhibition ‘Too Pretty to Throw Away’ – still on view until Sunday August 28 – Prof. Dr. Katarzyna J. Cwiertka will hold a public lecture at SieboldHuis Leiden, Rapenburg 19.

The lecture will be given on August 28 between 2 – 3 PM and is called “Japanse warenhuizen en de cadeaucultuur” – Japanese department stores and the culture of giving. The lecture will be in Dutch. read more…

Taiwan ‘world’s geniuses’ for garbage disposal

In an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal of May 17, Kathy Chen tells us how Taiwan, once dubbed Garbage Island, has emerged as an international poster child for recycling.
The article gives a general overview of the waste policies and the recycling system in Taiwan. The article also mentions the Buddhist organization Tzu Chi and its engagement in recycling.
Read this article through the WSJ’s Facebook page: Taiwan: The World’s Geniuses of Garbage Disposal.

To Pretty to Throw Away

From June 10 until August 28, 2016, the Garbage Matters Project features Too Pretty to Throw Away, an exhibition on Japanese product packaging, in collaboration with Japanmuseum Sieboldhuis in Leiden and Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Cracow. The curators of the exhibition are Dr. Ewa Machotka and Prof. Dr. Katarzyna J. Cwiertka, both affiliated with Leiden University. After closing in Leiden on 28 August, the exhibition will re-open in Cracow on 9 November. read more…

Worldwide Waste journal

Film and Documentary Screening

Film and Documentary Screening for the Waste in Asia Conference 2016

Featured films: No Doggy Bag Please (Hingman Leung, 2015); Tyres (by Kyaw Myo Lwin, 2013); Eating Out and Food Waste in Bangalore | Metro Manila (Marlyne Sahakian, 2016); Refuse and Daily Life (Seiji Koyama, 1960).

Research presentation on everyday food waste

David Evans of Manchester University presents his research on household waste, particularly food waste, in a presentation titled “Crossing the threshold: why do households waste food and what can we do about it?” at an event hosted by the Sustainable Consumption Institute, London, March 16, 2012.



Food Packaging: uncovering the history

International Symposium, 1-2 Dec. 2017, Tokyo
Convenors: Prof. Katarzyna J. Cwiertka (Leiden University) and Prof. Masanobu Ishikawa (Kobe University)

This will be the very first symposium on the history of food packaging to bring together scholars and industry experts with the aim of mapping the agenda for investigating this as yet largely uncharted topic. It will offer a unique opportunity for discussion for anthropologists, economists, geographers, historians, and sociologists interested in, or working on, any aspect of food packaging history since 1900. read more…

Waste in Asia Conference: Discussing Waste as a Global/Local Phenomenon

Between 9 and 11 June 2016, the conference Waste in Asia was held at Leiden University. The conference was organized by Prof. Katarzyna J. Cwiertka and hosted by the Garbage Matters Project.

Twenty-nine speakers from around the world – including Taiwan, China, Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands – gathered to discuss waste-related issues ranging from food waste in China and Indonesia, to recycling in Taiwan, to the representation of waste in film and literature in the Philippines and Korea. read more…