In this colloquial talk we presented the Mikve Israel Rubbish Project (MIRP) and some key issues concerning conceptualization and research into matters of waste and disposal. The first part of the talk focused on the question ‘what is a landfill?’. At face value, we suggested it can be defined as a container of waste by archaeological means (burial).
However, this definition quickly falls apart, particularly on account of waste being a value rather than a per se entity. Consequently, the answer to our question splits in two. On the one hand, landfills do contain waste, but this also means that its operations amount to the stabilization and institutionalization of an otherwise ephemeral social valuation. On the other hand the act of burial and the production of archaeological deposits inserts a wedge between the objects designated as waste and the valuing social sphere. Thus, whatever is buried in the landfill, it cannot be waste, but something different; the landfill in this regard does not stabilize waste, but destroys it. Whether the landfill is a means of institutionalizing waste or destroying it, ultimately lies on whether priority is attributed to its surface or the substance, respectively.
The second part of the talk presented some of the complexities regarding the social mechanisms that produce waste and regulate its disposal. It was noted that discard and disposal of substances is socially sanctioned, demanding both authority and permission. This is also true for their retrieval; and in both cases value is closely intertwined. The mode of disposal in dictated by objects’ perceived significance, and modes of retrieval constitute their new meaning.