The Canada’s Waste Flow research program currently comprises two phases:


Phase I: The first phase of this project was funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Insight Development Fund (430-2011-0058), and brought together researchers in sociology, environmental studies, geography, and civil engineering.


Phase II: Our current projects are supported through the following generous funding:


Hird, M.J. and Rocher, L. ‘The Waste Atelier: Advancing France-Canada Waste Studies Research’, France Canada Research Fund, 2018-2020, $14,780.


Holmberg, Ideland and Helgesson (Hird,M.J. International Partner) ‘Waste work in the sustainability economy: transforming values of biological waste’, The Swedish Research Council, 2018-2020, 4,200,000SEK/$651,126.


Hird, M.J. ‘The Seed Box: A Mistra-Formas Environmental Humanities Collaboratory’, Mistra-Formas, 2017-2019, 824,000SEK/$122,255.


Rocher, L.; Garnier, R. and Hird, M.J. ‘Déchets et territoires périphériques’, Institut des Sciences de l’Homme. 2018-2020, 20,000euros/$30,390.


Whiteley, Louise; Benard, Adam (Hird, M.J., Collaborator) ‘Microbes on the Mind: Public Perceptions of the Implications of Microbiome Research for Mental Illness’, Velux Foundation, 2017-2021, 5,962,777kr/$1,194,730.


Hird, M.J. (PI) and van Wyck, P. ‘Canada's Northern Waste Future: Colonial Legacies, Contemporary Development, and Future Opportunties’. SSHRC Insight Development Grant, 2015-2019. $73,592. (The highest SSHRC award throughout Canada for the year 2015).


Åsberg, C., Hedrén, J., Neimanis, A. (Hird, M.J., Consortium Member) ‘Environmental Humanities Collaboratory’. The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, and Formas, 2015-2019. $6,448,000.


Hird, M.J. (PI), Rowe, R.K. and van Wyck, P. ‘Canada’s Waste Future’, SSHRC Insight Grant, 2013-2019. $344,960. (The highest SSHRC Insight award at Queen’s University).


Hird, M.J. Queen’s University Special Research Award, 2012-, $100,000.


Our Canada’s Waste Flow research program asks these central questions:

1. What is waste?

From both local and global perspectives, waste is a relative term.  Several phenomena, including dumpster diving, yard/car boot sales, vintage clothing stores, or the thriving garbage picking industries in developing countries, point to the fact that one person’s waste is another person’s sustenance, livelihood and/or treasure.


Moreover, in important ways, we never actually get rid of anything: things we discard are transformed into other things.  In this way, nothing is ever finally waste.  Landfill waste may be out of sight, but it is material that variously resists and transforms into other substances, such as leachate.  So in asking the question, what is waste? we critically consider what it means from cultural, economic, political, and material perspectives to identify certain entities as ‘discardable’ and discarded.


The waste Canadians produce is typically characterized as solid, liquid, gaseous substances, including municipal, industrial, construction, industrial agricultural livestock manure, nuclear, mining, and electronic (e-waste). According to the latest statistics, Canada produced 645 million tonnes of oil sands waste (sand and fine tailings), 473 million tonnes of mining waste (mine tailings and mine waste rock), 181 million tonnes of agricultural waste (livestock manure), and 34 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (Statistics Canada 2012: 11). This makes us the world’s highest per capita municipal solid waste producer (Statistics Canada 2012: 11, 14; Conference Board of Canada 2013).


2. What do we do with our waste?

Despite efforts to divert waste through recycling, globally, up to 95% of all waste is buried in landfills (Kim and Owens 2010), and landfilling is the central means of disposing of waste in Canada (Statistics Canada 2012: 16). Every province and territory in Canada has landfills, and in 2010, 30% of these landfills reached or surpassed capacity (Statistics Canada 2011). In response, increasing volumes of waste are moved between provinces, or exported to the United States, Mexico, China, and elsewhere (Lepawski and McNabb 2010; Statistics Canada 2005: 13-14, 2010). By 2050 Canada will have produced well over 2.5 million m3 of nuclear waste; nearly 200,000 kg of plutonium contained in over 24.8 million spent fuel bundles (Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office 2012). The problems posed by nuclear waste toxicity – affecting not only nations producing nuclear materials, but nations considered suitable sites for permanent repositories – remain largely unaddressed, and far from solved (Association for Regional and International Underground Storage 2012; Holland 2002). Other forms of waste such as mining, agricultural, and e-waste are managed through landfilling, reprocessing, incineration, freezing and other methods.


Canadian waste management focuses on the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. Of these, reducing waste is most effective but receives the least attention because it requires a significant change in consumption patterns.  Reusing waste materials is next in effectiveness, and receives some attention in the form of drop-off depots, designated curb side exchanges and the like.  Recycling waste material is least effective, yet receives the most interest.


In asking what do we do with our waste? we are interested in finding out what material, political, economic, historical and cultural decisions contribute to our current waste management practices, and how these practices might change in the future.


3. What is our waste future?

In Canada, as elsewhere, waste is largely understood as a techno-scientific problem amenable to techno-scientific solutions. This points to a circular logic: engineering and science articulate the terms and parameters of waste problems such that each new problem tethers us to further solutions in the form of further techno-scientific innovations. As such, most attention is directed towards more and better diversion, better landfilling and repository technology, better semiological technologies for warning the future, and the development of new waste management technologies. These solutions, as such, are not undesirable. But waste also involves the politics and economics of consumption; intergovernmental and industry-government relations; urban-rural divides; health; labor relations; gender and waste economies (in the global north, household waste sorting is most often performed by women, and in the global south increasing numbers of women and children engage in waste recycling activities in subsistence economies); science-public relations; risk; governance; and so on – a bewildering array of factors, considerably beyond the remit of engineering and science. Indeed it raises profound socio-ethical issues about our “waste-maker” society, and in particular, the effects of capitalism’s refusal to identify waste as integral to production itself.


As such, our aim is to better comprehend society’s fundamental and inextricable entanglement with techno-scientific phenomena, and their risks. This entanglement between techno-science and risk is also the site of Canada’s present and future ethical responsibility to current and future generations. Indeed, the twenty first century marks a threshold where waste – as concept, as excess, as object – begins to issue an imperative that we refigure our relations with waste within our communities, waste as constituting our environments, and poised, we might say, to become an organizing, biospherical feature of global society. Canadians require opportunities to consider society’s complex socio-ethical relations with waste in order to situate waste management technologies in their wider context. Through a comprehensive examination of current and emerging waste management technologies, our study aims to make an original and innovative contribution toward both practical and theoretical knowledge about the futurity of waste.


Our study focuses on municipal, industrial and nuclear waste because these: (1) comprise a significant volume of Canada’s waste; (2) are largely buried or stored in the ground with myriad significant present and future consequences for human health and the environment; and, (3) are narrowly framed as techno-scientific issues whose techno-scientific solutions largely exclude broad socio-ethical considerations. Our study complements other current Canadian waste initiatives – studies of e-waste by Josh Lepawsky and his colleagues at Memorial University, and abandoned mines in Canada’s north by John Sandlos and Arn Keeling at Memorial University.



Program Team

Principal Investigator - Myra J. Hird

Professor, D.Phil, FRSC, Queen's National Scholar, Queen's University, Director genera Research Group, School of Environmental Studies. 

Myra earned undergraduate degrees from the University of Western Ontario and the University of Windsor, a Masters degree from McGill University and a D.Phil. from Oxford University. Research and teaching interests span the areas of science studies (including philosophy of science, sociology of scientific knowledge and epistemology), health science, transdisciplinarity, knowledge mobilization, sexual difference, sexuality (including trans, transsex, intersex), ethics and social justice, violence, feminist theory and queer theory. [...]


Co-Investigator - Kerry Rowe

Professor, Ph.D., D.Eng., FRSC, FCAE, FEIC, P.Eng., Queen's University, Department of  Civil Engineering

Educated at The University of Sydney, Australia, Kerry worked as a geotechnical engineer with the Australian Government Department of Construction prior to emigrating to Canada in 1978.  He spent 22 years as a professor, including 8 years as Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, at The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.  He is presently a Professor of Civil Engineering and the former Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada. His research and consulting has been in the fields of Geotechnical, Geosynthetic, Hydrogeologic, Landfill and Geoenvironmental Engineering.  He is the lead author of the book "Barrier Systems for Waste Disposal Facilities", and editor of the Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering Handbook for Kluwer Academic Publishers, and has more than 400 publications in refereed journals, conferences and books [...]


Co-Investigator - Peter C. van Wyck

Professor, Ph.D, Graduate Program Director, Department of Communication Studies, Concordia University

Peter’s current research and writing interests include the theory and philosophy of communication; semiotics of environment; atomic history; landscape, chorography, and critical topographies; discourses of North and nordicity; and the photographic image. I am also the Graduate Program Director of our MA in Media Studies Program. His latest book, released in November 2010, published by McGill Queen’s University Press, is entitled The Highway of the Atom. It was recently awarded the 2011 Gertrude J. Robinson book award for the best new book in communication studies by the Canadian Communication Association [...]