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Executive summary

Previous research in Melbourne has suggested that informal practices of hard rubbish reuse (or ‘gleaning’) by households may significantly decrease the amount of landfill. Despite this, many municipal councils throughout Melbourne have sought to make gleaning illegal. Those councils, such as Moreland, that have supported personal gleaning, have expressed concerns around managing issues of dumping and ‘professional’ gleaning.

This qualitative study of 15 households in the Moreland Council region aimed to provide more in-depth knowledge of why and how people glean. Building on previous work on the political economy of hard rubbish, we saw a need for a more culturally-inflected understanding of this lifestyle practice in relation to wider consumption practices, cultural perspectives on commodities, and perceived changing norms and values around responsibility and ownership, ‘waste’ and value, and environmental or ethical consumption. By providing a more complex understanding of the culture and practices of gleaning our concern has been to locate the potential ‘place’ and role of gleaning activities, particularly for domestic reuse, within councils and communities and indicate the social, economic, and other implications and potential limitations of current strategies and policies to manage and control hard rubbish reuse.

The study reveals the practice of gleaning as characterised by, and as allowing, the expression of positive values associated with not-wasting, caring for others, and social responsibility. What the study found was that it fosters a sense of connection across generations and with the wider community. Interviewees associated the opposite values of wastefulness, selfishness, and social isolation with mainstream consumerism; gleaning is explicitly characterised by study participants as an active and performative rejection of this. The report concludes, in light of these study findings, with a list of recommendations for Moreland City Council.

Please note: this report was prepared for Moreland City Council by RMIT’s School of Media and Communication, in collaboration with Swinburne University of Technology’s Institute for Social Research.

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