Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Nice Save: The Moral Economies of Recycling in England and Sweden

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Nice Save: The Moral Economies of Recycling in England and Sweden

Article excerpt

Abstract. My aim in this paper is to develop the concept of moral economy by exploring how moral principles intertwine and interact with forms of economic organisation. Through applying a holistic moral-economy framework, this paper explores institutional variations in the moral economies of recycling, paying attention to those lay normativities that shape consumers' everyday interactions with their waste. The starting point for this paper comes from the observation that moral messages used to promote recycling differ between Sweden and England. In Sweden the protection and stewardship of the natural environment are key tropes, whereas in England recycling is promoted as an action that saves the environment and public money. I show that the content of these moral messages is closely related to the system of recycling provision within a country, together shaping nationally distinct moral economies of recycling.

Keywords: moral economy, recycling, waste

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My aim in this paper is to develop the concept of moral economy by exploring how moral principles intertwine and interact with forms of economic organisation. Through applying a holistic moral-economy framework (Bolton and Laaser, 2013), informed by the writings of Polanyi (1944, 1957), Thompson (1991), and Sayer (2000; 2005; 2011), this paper explores institutional variations in the moral economies of recycling, at the same time as paying attention to those lay normativities that shape consumers' everyday interactions with their waste. The starting point for this paper comes from the observation that moral messages used to promote recycling differ between Sweden and England. In Sweden the protection and stewardship of the natural environment are key tropes, whereas in England recycling is variously promoted as an action that helps the environment and as a way of saving public money. I show that the content of these moral messages is closely related to the system of recycling provision within a country, together shaping nationally distinct moral economies of recycling.

In recent years social scientists have become interested in questions of ethics and morality (Sayer, 2000; 2005; 2011; Smith, 2000; Trentniann, 2007), particularly in the field of consumption where growth of ethical goods (like fair trade) has encouraged scholars to ask how consumers have been made responsible for an array of moral and political issues (Barnett et al, 2011; Goodman, 2004; Varul, 2009; Wheeler, 2012). A striking feature of existing research is the role that different institutions play in constructing responsible 'citizen-consumers' who are motivated to act because of their commitment to moral and political projects, rather than in line with their selfish desires (homo economicus). Recycling is described as a form of ethical consumerism because its practice is linked to environmental and social goals, such as reducing carbon emissions, preventing landfill disposal, and saving local municipal funds. Institutions from the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors play a crucial role in constructing these moral economies of recycling, and, as this paper will show, there are important variations between Sweden and England that can be linked to the wider institutional systems of provision of which they are part.

The cultural variability of ethical consumption across comparative contexts is an underdeveloped area, and yet, in the handful of studies conducted, considerable differences have been noted (Kjaernes et al, 2007; Varul, 2009; Wheeler, 2012). For example, Varul discovered that the national context of fair-trade consumption informs the way people realise their responsibilities to distant others and construct themselves as ethical consumers. Different infrastructures of provision (supermarkets versus alternative outlets), histories of colonialism, and visions of the consumer (the consumer that regulates the market through free choice versus consumers being guided by expert agencies to make the right choice) influence the moral economy of fair trade in the UK and Germany respectively. …

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