Collection: The Bag and Beyond: Social Science and the Social Life of Plastic


Cambridge, Carnaval, and the ‘Actually Existing Circularity’ of Plastics



This article draws on comparative ethnographic research on plastic consumption, (re)use, and disposal in households and collective spaces in Cambridge (England) and Montevideo (Uruguay). Focusing on practices of re-use by individuals and collectives, it argues that these constitute forms of ‘actually existing circularity’ that provide an alternative to circular economy schemes premised on retained corporate ownership. In the context of discussions of the circular economy that are often limited to the macro policy level, this article thus provides a degree of granularity and a focus on everyday practices. Connecting with debates around materiality, it argues both that we must play close attention to the synthetic materials that surround us in everyday life, and that a focus on materials can help demonstrate the way that commodity status can be undone through projects of collective, inventive re-use that spill out beyond the household. Finally, it points to the potentially disenfranchising elements of dominant business-friendly circular economy visions and the way that these might disrupt complex materials pathways and cultures of re-use and repair rather than straight-forward linear economies.


plasticwasteUruguayre-userecyclingcircular economy
  • Year: 2021
  • Volume: 4 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 4
  • DOI: 10.5334/wwwj.66
  • Submitted on 11 Sep 2020
  • Accepted on 26 Jan 2021
  • Published on 27 May 2021
  • Peer Reviewed