SITUATED ECOLOGIES is a platform for research projects and activities that relate to situated and contested ecologies, in particular when viewed through the processes of urbanisation.

New research project: Turning livelihoods to rubbish?

Woman pushing trolley with recyclable material to depot. Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Dave Robertson. Wiki Commons.

Woman pushing trolley with recyclable material to depot. Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Dave Robertson. Wiki Commons.

A new research collaboration on waste in South African cities has been funded by the UK’s ESRC-DFID. It is lead by Erik Swyngedouw, Mary Lawhon and Henrik Ernstson.

This three-year project will examine global trends in waste management which are reducing access to the livelihoods generated from waste for the urban poor. Diverse environmental concerns and awareness of the financial benefits of waste are contributing to the formalisation, the financialisation, and the use of technology in waste management. Doing so changes labour relations, which could improve health for the urban poor, but simultaneously undermines livelihoods developed around waste and recycling. We will examine four specific interventions in South Africa in Durban/eThekwini, Johannesburg and Cape Town to understand competing claims to waste and its costs and benefits, and the governance processes through which these claims are adjudicated. In parallel we will undertake desktop research on waste management trends in Ghana and Uganda to increase the comparability of our research to other Sub-Saharan African countries. Our conceptual frameworks are informed by urban political ecology and development studies.

The project will be based at the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester in collaboration with the Department of Geography at The Florida State University, the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town and KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory in Stockholm. The project starts in November 2015 and runs until October 2018.

Full title of grant: Turning livelihoods to rubbish? Assessing the impacts of formalization and technologization of waste management on the urban poor

Funder: ESRC-DFID (Poverty Alleviation)

Principal Investigator: Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester)

Co-I: Mary Lawhon (The Florida State University)

Co-I: Henrik Ernstson (University of Cape Town, KTH Royal Institute of Technology)

Start: Nov 2015

Contact: Mary Lawhon (

ESRC Reference: ES/M009408/1


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