Environmental sustainability has become a touchstone worldwide as an ideological antidote to capitalism’s excess: waste. This talk, however, presents a fundamentally different account of both environmental sustainability and waste itself. In Bulgaria, Romani waste workers are figured as disposable even though their labor ensures that the country meets its international environmental sustainability targets. The logics of “progressive” sustainability initiatives, I argue, sustain an environment structured on white supremacy and racial capitalism. Though firmly positioned in landscapes of environmental racism and forced to endure the conditions of body-breaking labor, Romani women waste workers generate joyous life through the disruptive power of intimacy and friendship. In doing so, they retain the humanity that the system denies them and affirm the emancipatory potential of their collective acts of refusal.
Image: Sweepers Walking to Work (film still, Bojina Panayotova/Elana Resnick)