Making Waste, Talking Trash


14 December 2018 UNSW Australia Faculty of Law

Download the program here

What should we make of waste? Waste is commonly conceptualized as a material, substance, by-product, a resource – a matter for regulation. Waste is, often, what regulation aims to monitor, manage, marshal, minimize and, ultimately, dispose of. Waste forms a threat to our continued existence, to our habitat, to our health and wellbeing, productivity and sustainability as individuals and a community. Waste is what has aged, decayed, declined in quality, what is no longer useful or usable, what is no longer a resource. Waste is something that has been used up or expended carelessly, inefficiently, extravagantly, or to no purpose, a resource that was exhausted. To waste is to devastate, ravage and ruin; to emaciate and enfeeble; or to consume without result. Waste is an externality, a side effect of processes geared toward the production of the good and the meaningful, including the processes by which goods are produced. Waste is what may be processed, repurposed, recycled, rendered useful again, a renewable resource. Waste is an infrastructure of social relation, while wastefulness is an oft-remarked feature of many contemporary modes of infrastructure, both those newly constructed and those wasting away.

Understanding waste as an information technology, this workshop invites a rethinking of the relation between data (information, knowledge, value) and waste (junk, trash, spam). It aims to bring together a small group of scholars, from a range of disciplines, and to provide a platform for discussion, reflection and exchange and the generation of new lines of inquiry. By taking waste as a subject matter for discussion in the study of information and communications technology – digital technologies in particular – this workshop seeks to prompt conversation about the normative, distributional, constitutive, and associational dimensions of data production, formatting, storage, archiving, transfer, analysis, use, deletion and erasure.

Among the questions with which participants might engage are the following:

  • Is anything waste in the world of big data? If so, what is superfluous?
  • What communications are labeled junk, trash, or spam? How is the quality of information judged? Should trash talked be disposed of? Is fake information trash? How should misinformation or disinformation be treated?
  • Do we indeed live in a world where nothing, no information, goes to waste, where everything leaves a digital trace, an imprint, where everything is a potential input?
  • Can all information be stored and preserved? Should all information be stored and preserved?
  • What remains unknown, un-signified, insignificant? What is said or written without leaving a trace? What makes no sense; what is indetectible or nonsensical? What is neither data nor waste?
  • Can digital technology operate without making waste and talking trash, or is waste constitutive of information technology? In other words, can technology function without erasing information or generating superfluity, excess and exhaustion? What information is being erased, atrophied or discarded within different digital technologies’ operations and how?


This workshop builds, in part, on an interdisciplinary conversation initiated at UNSW in 2015 at the Data Associations in Global Law & Policy workshop. The event coincides with the inaugural annual lecture of the Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation on the evening of 13 December, to be given by Professor Mirelle Hildebrandt. Participants will be warmly invited to attend that lecture.

Please contact Dr. Nofar Sheffi at UNSW Law  with any questions. Workshop Convenors: Nofar Sheffi together with Caroline Compton, Lyria Bennett Moses, Fleur Johns and Daniel Joyce.