Tag Archives: recycling

Shock of the Global: Post-War Britain and Globalisation

A 'make do and mend' poster, c.1942.

A ‘make do and mend’ poster, c.1942.

by Benjamin Sacks

The Second World War permanently altered Britain’s relationship with the rest of the globe. Before 1939 the empire, particularly India and the settler colonies, dominated Britons’ conceptions of international affairs. But nearly six years of global conflict incontrovertibly changed this mindset. Isolated from its dominions by Axis submarines, ‘austerity’ Britain quickly adopted severe rationing and a ‘make do and mend’ approach. Gardening, raising small animals, and comprehensive recycling and reusing of countless household items became part-and-parcel of daily life. The British government and various civil organisations promoted the ‘local’, not the ‘global’ (to borrow sociologists George Ritzer’s and Roland Robinson’s terminology), prioritising national entrepreneurship and ingenuity over importing and exporting of goods.

This radically – and painfully – changed after 1945. India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947 catalyzed the empire’s irreversible (but relatively ordered) disintegration. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as fierce economic competitors, with considerably greater physical resource assets. At home, voters ousted Winston Churchill in favour of Labour Party leader Clement Atlee, who promised to refocus government policies on domestic social welfare. Internationally, Britain was forced to contend with a radically-changing marketplace. By the 1950s, it was increasingly evident that it could no longer solely rely on domestic production and inter-Commonwealth trade to both satisfy consumer demand and maintain the state’s strong international profile.

In ‘Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturing’, Thomas Birtchnell (University of Wollongong) skillfully demonstrates how – in short order – the Board of Trade, private businesses, and public organisations sought to re-educate consumers and producers alike of the global marketplace. They widely circulated such advertisements as ‘how can cycles sent to Africa fetch us cotton from U.S.A.?’ (1947) (p. 437). Officials popularised a “container-ship culture” in schools, trade and commercial magazines, and businesses in an effort to ramp up exports and imports of both raw materials and finished goods. Birtchnell recalled how social economist Karl Polanyi’s 1944 study, The Great Transformation, was trumpeted to promote Britain’s long history of international trade alongside other ‘economic propaganda’ campaigns (pp. 437-438).

To accomplish this goal, the Board of Trade and its allies tapped into a culture of consumerism and luxury that had persisted despite the war’s enormous pressures. At partial odds with Guy de la Bédoyère’s 2005 study The Home Front, Birtchnell proposes that Britons were at first exorted to produce and export advanced luxury items (e.g. radios, clothing, automobiles) in exchange for essentials. But this found little favour with British audiences, who had quietly clamoured for higher-end goods during the war, and now demanded their availability in the post-war environment. From 1947 the language changed: the Board of Trade instead promoted the export of British goods in exchange for foreign luxuries – silks, perfumes, electronics, foodstuffs. Such historians as Llewellyn Woodward promoted this programme via their writings; in 1947 he pronounced that ‘An English housewife finds it odd that English china to match a tea-set shattered in the Blitz can be bought in New York but is not on sale in London’ (p. 439). Birtchnell’s study is a fascinating contribution to our knowledge of Britain’s immediate post-war recovery, and hints as well at how Britain’s manufacturing base gradually switched from mass production to luxury, bespoke goods.

books_icon Thomas Birtchnell 2013 Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturingArea 45.4: 436-42.

Also see:

books_icon George Ritzer 2004 The Globalization of Nothing (Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Pine Forge Press).

books_icon Llewellyn Woodward 1947 Middle EnglandForeign Affairs 25.3, 378-87.



From Beginnings and Endings to Boundaries and Edges

by Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather

The authors: Josh Lepawsky is  Associate Professor and Charles Mather is Head of Department both at the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

Lepawsky J and Mather C 2011 From beginnings and endings to boundaries and edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste Area 43 242–249

[N.B.: This is the first open access paper published in the journal Area, which means anyone can read it for free rather than having to pay a subscription to access it]

Recycling Behaviour

by Caitlin Douglas

Last week I received a thought provoking reply to my Green Consumerism post which sparked my interest into why people decide to take pro-environmental actions.  In a 2003 Area article, Stewart Barr discusses what encourages people to engage in environmental actions around the home.  The first factor is whether concern exists about the environment which is determined by a person’s social and environmental values. For example, someone who is altruistic and open to change is more likely to be pro-environmental. Situational factors, such as access to services, and psychological variables, such as whether someone gains satisfaction in environmental action, then combine with the environmental concern to determine a person’s behaviour. This article shows that focus should be given to situational factors and psychological variables as these two factors have a tremendous ability to shape a person’s actions.

Interestingly, Barr reports that social pressure is very effective in changing environmental behaviour.  For example, curb-side recycling generally has more success than other methods of recycling because of the social pressure for people to ‘put their bin out’. On Friday, the BBC reported that Anglesey council topped Wales’ recycling league and this was attributed to implementation of a well designed and researched service. Well done Anglesey! It would be interesting to know what approach they used.

Read the journal article: Barr, S. 2003. Strategies for sustainability: citizens and responsible environmental behaviour. Area, 35(3):227-240.

Read the BBC news article:Anglesey council top of recycling league

Opportunities for sustainability

I-Hsien Porter

Recycling bins

Recycling bins: sustainability in action?

From the 2012 Olympics to doorstep recycling collections, one issue that geographers are repeatedly confronted with is ‘sustainability.’ For example, in a recent photography project, the photographer Andy Spain imagines how London’s architecture would look in a more sustainable and ‘greener’ future.

One of the most widely used definitions of sustainable development is that of the UN’s Brundtland Report, published in the 1980s: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

A paper by Colin Williams and Andrew Millington, in The Geographical Journal, explores two possible responses to sustainable development, either (1) increasing the amount of resources available or, (2) reducing the amount of resources we need.

Many of our responses to the sustainability challenge have focused on the first option. Developing renewable resources, finding substitutes or making more effective use of resources are all ways in which we can meet present and future needs.

But long term planning must also look at ways of reducing the demands we place on the Earth (e.g. by consuming less), so that we need fewer resources to meet our needs in the first place.

In practice, the boundaries between these two approaches are rather more blurred, and sustainable development usually involves some combination of both. This, argue Williams and Millington, generates new opportunities to unite different aspects of geography to generate new ideas about our planet’s future.

‘Ecocities’, a photography project by Andy Spain

Williams, C. and Millington, A. (2004) ‘The Diverse and Contested Meanings of Sustainable Development’, The Geographical Journal 170 (2): 99-104

(Em)Powered by Waste?

By Georgia Davis Conover

The Durham region near Toronto, Canada is weighing a couple of options for disposing of municipal waste.  One possibility: a landfill, which some are calling a bowl for garbage.  Government officials are also considering the possibility of funding what is called a waste-to-energy plant, more simply put a facility that burns garbage in order to generate electricity.   While the city was considering its disposal options, the Star newspaper in Toronto went to Detroit, Michigan, to look at that city’s waste-to-energy plant where it discovered that since the city committed to the incinerator nearly two decades ago recycling is virtually unheard of.  In fact, Detroit did not begin a curbside recycling program until this summer.  Other American cities have had so-called curbside recycling for more than a decade.   Detroit, as a municipality, has not shown an interest in recycling because recyclable materials are good fuel for the energy plant.

In his article, “Strategies for Sustainability,” Stewart Barr argues that the energy consciousness of the public is influenced by a number of outside factors.  And the likely hood of someone recycling or saving energy can be tied not only to their feelings about the practice but also to situational variables.  He argues that those who are trying to influence environmental behaviors need to keep the multiple influences in mind when crafting their message.

Read The Star article.

Read Barr, Stewart.  2003.  Strategies for Sustainability. Area 35(3):227-240.

North Atlantic plastic accumulation and the flow of international scrap material

By Clare Boston

Results of a two-decade long survey by the Sea Education Association have revealed that there is a large area, between 22º and 38º N, in the North Atlantic within which plastic debris accumulates.  The maximum density of this debris was found to be 200,000 pieces per square kilometre, which is comparable with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, although in the North Atlantic the plastic is much more widely dispersed and has generally been broken up into much smaller pieces.  This research highlights firstly the need for more studies on the environmental impacts of plastic on the marine environment, and secondly, the need for changes in environmental waste management strategies in order to reduce the amount of plastic debris which currently enters the oceans.

In a recent article in Geographical Journal Donald Lyons and others investigate the movement of scrap material, including iron, steel, paper, plastics, aluminium, copper, nickel and zinc, to and from the USA.  Their study reveals that whilst material should be recycled locally in order to decrease the costs of transportation, and its associated environmental impacts, a large proportion of low grade recyclable material in the USA is exported to developing countries as demand, price and transportation costs often make it more profitable.  In return, the USA imports more high-grade scrap material.  This current recycling infrastructure potentially hinders the development of a ‘closed loop’ industrial system where scrap materials are used to substitute the virgin materials currently used in production.  However, the authors argue that whilst these global circuits are unlikely to be a sustainable long term solution, at present they provide a solution between supply and demand differences within the developing and developed worlds, and that the use of US scrap material in the developing world is a preferable alternative to virgin production.

Read the BBC News Online story

Read Lyons, Rice and Wachal (2009). Circuits of scrap: closed loop industrial ecosystems and the geography of US international recyclable material flows 1995–2005. Geographical Journal 175: 286-300.

The cost of waste

By Jenny Lunn

Business and industry face calls for more ethical behaviour. This includes taking responsibility for waste. All processes and products create waste, whether directly during manufacturing or indirectly at the end user.

Pierre Desrochers’ article in Geographical Journal (March 2009) looks at industrial waste in Victorian England. He investigates how the residuals from iron and coal gas production were transformed into valuable by-products.

One of the by-products of our own digital age is electronic waste. According to the United Nations, between 20 and 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced every year. However, manufacturers still have a long way to go to implement safe disposal methods or to recycle it into usable by-products. The BBC World Service’s Digital Planet programme recently featured India’s e-waste workers. Many of them are children, who dismantle unwanted computers and mobile phones; for minimal wages they work with toxic chemicals that have an impact on their health.

The challenge of sustainable development is to find alternative uses for industrial and consumer waste which both minimise environmental damage and deliver economic benefits.

Read the BBC article about India’s e-waste workers

Read Pierre Desrochers’ article in Geographical Journal