UCL Urban Laboratory


Circulations of Zero Waste: Policy and planning ideas across London and Paris

5 February 2020

We invite UCL MSc students with a dissertation component as part of their programme to submit their interest in comparatively researching zero waste programmes across the cities of London and Paris.

London Waste Disposal Unit, River Lee Navigation, London N18. Image used under Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Christine Matthews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

With the rise of a global environmental change discourse, waste has emerged as a significant category in terms of framing legitimate theoretical as well as practical concerns, capturing public imagination through policy promises such as zero waste programmes.

As a global movement, the idea of 'zero waste' encapsulates a wide range of notions from circular economy and recycling and recovery of resources to sustainable consumption behaviour. Policies targeting zero waste can embody any of these aspects and not necessarily all of them, leading to mostly target-driven legislative regulations that struggle often to meet these expectations. There is an urgent need to subject zero waste programmes (particularly those involving policy and planning initiatives) to a critical scrutiny if we are to avoid them being reduced to simple benchmarking exercises or evaluated based on a reductivist understanding of success or failure.

This research project thus proposes to investigate zero waste programmes across London and Paris as a comparative gesture that acknowledges the specificity of their ‘waste histories’ resulting in quite different waste management trajectories, asking more broadly what they precisely tell about global cities such as London and Paris’s uneven geographies of waste production and disposal.

Through your dissertation, we would like you to explore the following:

  1. How has the idea of zero waste evolved as a policy and planning objective in London and Paris? What is the socio-historical context of this knowledge and how has it been produced and circulated?
  2. How has urban governance in the two cities been set up and tailored to address the specific concerns of a zero waste programme and what kind of governance regimes emerge from this pursuit?
  3. How are zero waste programmes showcased across the Channel as innovative urban experiments to become engrained in policy and planning?

While ideally we are looking for a student who is proficient in English and French demonstrating an ability to investigate zero-waste programmes in both the cities (London and Paris), we are willing to consider a proposal where you feel comfortable looking into only one city (London or Paris), provided this is well-substantiated.

Please submit a short statement expressing your interest in this topic and how you think are you suited to undertake this research by 14 February 2020 to Dr Pushpa Arabindoo (p.arabindoo@ucl.ac.uk). Outline in a few lines your initial ideas on your conceptual approach as well as innovative methodological possibilities. If selected, expenses related to your dissertation research will be covered.

Since funding for this project has to be claimed by 31 July 2020, you will need to submit all reimbursables by 1 July 2020 factoring in estimates of impending costs such as printing of dissertation well ahead of the September deadline. You will also be expected to participate in a zero-waste masterclass scheduled in Paris for 8/9 April 2020.

The project is funded through the Paris pathway of the UCL Cities partnerships Programme, and is a collaboration between Dr Pushpa Arabindoo and Prof Eric Verdeil from Sciences Po, who will simultaneously host a masters student conducting research on this topic.

Image: London Waste Disposal Unit, River Lee Navigation, London N18. © Copyright Christine Matthews and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]