Olli Pyyhtinen (U of Tampere) – “From Trash to Treasure: The Valuation of Waste in Dumpster Diving”

The talk explores the connections between value, ethics, and waste by attending to the voluntary dumpster diving for food. Despite its seemingly marginal nature, dumpster diving is a highly relevant and fruitful topic for the understanding the theory and practice of valuation (Simmel; Deleuze/Guattari), as it involves the transformation of trash into treasure in hands-on practices of valuation. Drawing upon ongoing fieldwork in Finland, this talk examines not only what is valued in dumpster diving, but also how valuation takes place in practice. First, for dumpster divers, judgments of whether something can or cannot be eaten are not separate from other activities but intertwined with them. In dumpster diving, the practices of moving in townscape, diving into waste containers, as well as sorting, picking up, transporting, washing, peeling, freezing, and cooking, for example, are integral to what it is to valuate. Second, that valuation of waste in dumpster diving is inextricably entangled with practices that are not explicitly about value also means that valuation is not only about knowing what can be eaten, but also about making them good to eat. Dumpster diving thus entails an important lesson about the creativity of valuation. Third, the case of dumpster diving also illustrates how valuation is bound to remain more or less uncertain. It lacks fixed variables and waste remains in excess of classifications.