Regimes of waste (im)perceptibility in the life cycle of metal

Michael Picard, Tina Beigi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The transnational legal landscape governing waste management, recycling, and disposal remains narrowly focused on the economic possibilities of ‘end-of-life products', while paying little to no consideration to the much greater quantities of waste generated at the beginning of the product's lifecycle. We explore the existing regulatory framework through the duality of (in)visibility: whereas the circular economy of recycling increasingly integrates synthetic waste into the visible, the extractive industry buries biophysical waste into a ‘cradle-to-grave' economy. We argue that waste becomes a perceptible matter of concern when commodified into a new cycle of wealth accumulation. By contrast, when waste is abandoned on mining sites, it becomes an imperceptible matter of fact. Mining risks, although perceptible to the industry and affected communities, are rendered less visible to the administrative bodies in charge of regulating them. Therefore, waste (im)perceptibility is industrially manufactured according to the commercial aspects of a product, rather than its toxicity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-218
JournalTransnational Legal Theory
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2020


  • waste
  • transnational law
  • trade
  • metal
  • ecology
  • Bruno Latour
  • matter of fact
  • matter of concern


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