Accepted Paper:

Throwing away one's cake and eating it too: food waste, reclamation, and the aspirational futures of late Anthropocene capitalism  
David Giles (Deakin University)

Paper short abstract:

Emerging endeavours to reclaim commercial food waste—from secondary markets to energy production—represent incipient futures for capital accumulation in the late Anthropocene, allowing businesses to capitalise on their waste and mitigate their footprint without restructuring their commodity chains.

Paper long abstract:

From ugly potatoes discarded in the fields to unspoiled products abandoned in supermarket dumpsters, commercial food waste has become the object of growing concern in industrialised countries—perhaps symptomatic of the increasingly evident environmental and social costs of late capitalism. In recent years, the massive scale of these wasted food surpluses has alarmed publics, policy makers, and private enterprises alike. They have increasingly sought innovations to divert these excesses from the waste stream, yet rarely challenged the underlying logic of commodification and capitalist exchange that produces them in the first place. This paper therefore describes emergent practices of capitalist reclamation, and even recapitalisation, of these commercial food surpluses, such as the development of for-profit enterprises like the Daily Table—a restaurant which produces discount meals from supermarket cast-offs—and the production of energy from organic wastes through aerobic digestion—which allows supermarkets like Tesco to recoup the caloric surplus value trapped within their food waste. These endeavours, I argue, represent incipient futures for 21st century capital accumulation, allowing commercial enterprises to reclaim their own waste, bolster their bottom lines, and mitigate their environmental footprints without fundamentally restructuring their commodity chains. In such ways, I argue, may the capitalism of the late Anthropocene attempt to throw away its cake and eat it too.

Panel P14
Life after waste