Food waste bins: bridging infrastructures and practices

Alan Metcalfe, Mark Riley, Stewart W Barr, Terry L Tudor, Guy M Robinson, Steven Guilbert

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticle


Recent years have seen an increasing number of councils begin separate food waste collections from domestic premises, a change that has resulted in householders having to sort food waste and keep it in separate bins until collection. Yet bins – of any kind – have been subject to little investigation, despite being a central element of the waste infrastructure. This paper attends to this omission by examining food bins. First of all, it explores the ways that bins have agency through an exploration of how their presence has affected waste practices. We find that their agency is three-fold: it is symbolic, relational and, importantly, material – an aspect which has been overlooked all too often in analyses of material culture and consumption. Secondly, we show how this material agency can be troubling: we explore how this agency is managed by households through practices of accommodation and resistance. Examining the food bin's agency and how it is consumed gives an insight into the implementation of, and engagement with, waste policy ‘on the ground’. This allows us to make some suggestions for how to improve the implementation of this policy. This paper also opens up two new areas of study: first, a more sustained and developed exploration of bins, giving some pointers as to other possible issues. Secondly, and more broadly, the paper examines the extent to which the objects that materialize policy can be useful in the implementation of that policy, especially if the policy seeks ‘behaviour change'
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-698
Number of pages17
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue numberS2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012


  • Bins
  • food
  • waste
  • object agency
  • material culture
  • consumption
  • policy


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