Questioning Waste Through Urban Metabolism: Technologies, Scales, Practices

This thesis explores and discusses the issue of urban waste through the lens of urban metabolism.

Although research on waste largely focuses on the technical aspects of waste treatment and management, current demands for a “sustainable” and “circular” transition call for a broadening of the scope of analysis exploring new integrative approaches. In the same way, urban metabolism research is widely interpreted in its most technical sense, as the analysis of energy and material flowing into, within, and out of cities, even though scholars are now calling for more interdisciplinary engagements to better understand the connections between these flows and their underpinning sociotechnical systems. This thesis aims to test the capacity of the “metabolic lens” to build insights into the complexity of contemporary waste management and recycling, combining the more technical and socio-political stances of urban metabolism research. To do so, it gathers three research projects that build on different epistemological angles and research methods dealing with the issue of biowaste, focusing in particular on (i) decentralised treatment technologies, (ii) waste management scales, and (iii) waste recycling practices. Analyses are based on extensive literature review (for technologies) and empirics collected in the case of the city-region of Brussels (for scales and practices). If the results of these works aim to potentially support decision and policy-making processes in the current sustainable and circular transition, for the purposes of this thesis, they serve to stage a conclusive reflection on the contribution of the metabolic lens and the way to steer more integrative engagements in urban metabolism research.