Sacred waste by Sarah A. Riccardi

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Sacred waste or holy trash refers to the afterlife of things employed within religious, spiritual, and civil contexts that are then recycled, upcycled, or discarded (Anderson 2010: 35). This vernacular concept is beginning to take root in religious studies and literary studies, both of which are fields that have recently started to encourage research on ecology, environmentalism, and waste in relationship to religion and spirituality. Found within a variety of contexts, examples of sacred waste include leftover communion elements in Christian traditions; the remains of prasad in Hindu devotional activities; Torahs no longer in circulation in Jewish communities; faded icons found in the home shrines of Eastern Orthodox believers; and a wide variety of other items used by practitioners of faith traditions. However, sacred waste is not limited to institutional and vernacular forms of religion. Public items that are associated with forms of national pride, such as flags and emblems, constructed spaces, and land are often imbued with a sense of symbolic identity. Thus the retirement or destruction of such entities can cause public outcry if the items are not removed or disposed of in a manner that acknowledges socio-political, religious, national, or ethnic pride. Sacred waste is made up of more than the composite of its material elements because of its close proximity to and association with holiness or sacredness, the essence of which can become infused within or attached to the items themselves. Often, the spiritual dimension of holy things engenders deep emotional feelings on the part of practitioners, creating complex dilemmas that call into question the boundaries of holiness, sacridity and the agency of both the person and the object being discarded.

What or who defines the sacred items that ultimately become refuse? This question is not new– indeed, it harkens back to Mary Douglas’ work on purity and emic and etic understandings of sacredness (Douglas 1966). The subjective and culturally specific nature of belief means that sacred trash can take many different forms, for even everyday items can be considered sacred or holy by the discarder. In this way, sacred trash becomes a means by which individuals can authenticate their faith, spirituality, or rituals, often challenging institutional, homogeneous understandings of holiness and authority. These negotiations have political implications, highlighting the loci of power within traditional forms of religion and how new, consumer-driven forms of faith and spirituality are destabilizing formal institutions of religious power. This is best seen in the hybrid and “syncretistic” forms of Catholicism that meld together religious and secular things, creating an amalgamated form of waste that possesses a complex religious and emotional nature, such as votive candles, prayer cards, family photos, and incense. For practitioners, the remains of these items are sacred and, thus, should be disposed of or recycled in an appropriate manner that adheres to a personal or collective understanding of what is proper and legitimate theologically, culturally, and historically. However, in institutional religious settings, this type of garbage may not be view as sacred, leading to a fissure between vernacular folk piety and the authoritative hierarchy. In this manner, trashing functions as heresy and subversion, and a catalyst for socio-religious change. An example of the subversive nature of sacred trash outside of institutional religion can be seen at the annual Burning Man event in northern Nevada. There a symbolic effigy is reduced to ash, to sacred waste, and through the creation of holy refuse, attendees express their cultural ideals and desire to move beyond normative understandings of civil engagement.

The very idea of sacred waste also brings up ethical issues that are found in other areas of discard studies; namely, how does one properly dispose of used items in moral and ethical ways that concomitantly address religious obligations and environmental concerns? Implicit within this question are issues of socio-religious identity, the relationship between institutional hierarchy and vernacular practices, and negotiation of spiritual and physical boundaries. These dilemmas take on more salient concerns with the centrality of new technologies, such as the Internet marketplace and digital printers, through which consumers can and do purchase and produce goods that are used in religious rituals, spiritual acts, and, often, everyday life events. This type of mediated consumption is seen in Eastern Orthodoxy in the United States, where practitioners often print out paper icons on their home laser printers. These images become part of the circulation of the material holy in Orthodox economies until such time as they begin to fade and decay. The inevitable disintegration of paper icons means that they must be preserved, burned, or buried in accordance with the religious laws of the group…

Major producers of aluminum in 2012/ 2013 (USGS figures).

Rank Country/Region Aluminium production
(thousands of tonnes)
 World 47,300[3]
1 China People’s Republic of China 21,500[3]
2 Russia Russia 3,950[3]
3 Canada Canada 2,900[3]
4 United States United States 1,950[3]
5 United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates 1,800[3]
6 Australia Australia 1,750[3]
7 India India 1,700[3]
8 Brazil Brazil 1,330[3]
9 Norway Norway 1,200[3]
10 Bahrain Bahrain 900[3]
11 Iceland Iceland 825[3]
12 South Africa South Africa 820[3]
13 Qatar Qatar 600[3]
14 Mozambique Mozambique 560[3]
15 Argentina Argentina 460[3]
16 Germany Germany 400[3]
17 Oman Oman 360
18 France France 349
19 New Zealand New Zealand 327
20 Iran Iran 320
21 Tajikistan Tajikistan 273
22 Egypt Egypt 265
23 Indonesia Indonesia 250
24= Kazakhstan Kazakhstan 249
24= Romania Romania 249
26 Spain Spain 230
27 Venezuela Venezuela 200[3]

Major producers of Cement in 2013:

Rank Country/Region mil Tonnes
1  People’s Republic of China 2,300
2  India 280
3  United States 77.8
4  Iran 75
5  Brazil 70
6  Turkey 70
7  Russia 65
8  Viet Nam 65
9  Japan 53
10  Saudi Arabia 50
11  South Korea 49
12  Egypt 46
13  Mexico 36
14  Indonesia 58
15  Thailand 35
16  Germany 34
17  Pakistan 32
18  Italy 29
19  Algeria 21 [2]

Major producers of Potash in 2013:

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Major producers of Gold in 2012:

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Major producers of Zinc in 2011:

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Major producers of Diamonds in 2011:

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Major producers of Magnese in 2011:

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Major producers of Cobalt in 2011:

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Major producers of Gypsum by country in 2009:

Country World Production, By Country (Thousand metric tons)
1 China 46,000
2 United States 14,400
3 Iran, Islamic Republic Of 12,000
4 Spain 11,500
5 Thailand 8,000
6 Japan 5,800
7 Canada 5,740
8 Italy 5,400
9 Mexico 5,135.15
10 France 4,800
11 Australia 4,000
12 Turkey 3,000
13 India 2,550
14 Russian Federation 2,300
15 Saudi Arabia 2,300
16 Brazil 2,100
17 Egypt 2,000
18 Germany 1,900
19 United Kingdom 1,700
20 Algeria 1,672

Major producers of Silver by country in 2012:

Mine production: 162.2 million ounces

Mine production: 117 million ounces

Mine production: 111.3 million ounces

Mine production: 56.9 million ounces

Mine production: 45 million ounces

Mine production: 41.2 million ounces

Mine production: 39.7 million ounces

Mine production: 37 million ounces

United States
Mine production: 32.6 million ounces

Mine production: 24.1 million ounces

Paper Production worldwide in 2010/2011:

Country Production in 2011
(1,000 ton)
Production in 2010
(1,000 ton)
1  China 99,300 24.9% 1 92,599
2  United States 75,083 18.8% 2 75,849
3  Japan 26,627 6.7% 3 27,288
4  Germany 22,698 5.7% 4 23,122
5  Canada 12,112 3.0% 5 12,787
6  South Korea 11,492 2.9% 8 11,120
7  Finland 11,329 2.8% 6 11,789
8  Sweden 11,298 2.8% 7 11,410
9  Brazil 10,159 2.5% 10 9,796
10  Indonesia 10,035 2.5% 9 9,951
World Total 398,975 100.0% 394,244

Top Timber producing countries in 2012:
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Map of renewable water resources based on country:

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