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The Rubbish Collection Exhibition

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by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Event: -
The Science of What We Waste
the rubbish collection, science museum
The Rubbish Collection

How much rubbish does your household create in a week? Come collection day we have usually accumulated two boxes of recycling, a miniature bin of food waste, and a bag of general landfill. That's not to mention several bags of garden rubbish to be taken to the dump. If a family of three can acquire that much in a week, how much do you think a public venue such as the Science Museum gets through?

the rubbish collection, science museum
Exhibition Room is in the basement.

That is what artist, Joshua Soafer intends to find out. By exposing the volume, range, value, and beauty of rubbish, he intends to shed a new light on the things we throw away.

The Rubbish Collection is a two-phase project, and in the first half, which runs until the 15th July, he is inviting visitors to help out. I decided to go along and see what it was all about.

As I made my way through to the far end of the Science Museum, and travelled down to the basement, I could smell that distinctive pong of rotting food. Here is where all of the museum's waste - from the cafes, workshops, offices, and construction sites - has been diverted.

the rubbish collection, science museum
A photographic document of the museum's waste.

For the most part, the space is very empty: a few tables, a sink, and a few skips. A screen also lines the floor, projecting a cycle of photographs documenting each day's refuge.

I walked up to the nearest table, which had a list of instructions:

1. Get help from a volunteer
2. Put on protective gear
3. Grab a bag of rubbish
4. Empty the contents onto the table
5. Take a photo with the overhead camera
6. Put all the rubbish back in the bag
7. Take off the gear and wash your hands

the rubbish collection, science museum
Fancy sifting through rubbish?

I was stumped by step one. There were only a few people in the room, and I could not tell whether they were visitors taking part or volunteers. If they were visitors, then there were no volunteers present, and if they were volunteers, they had no interest in helping me. I must have been standing waiting for assistance for at least ten minutes, but no one came to give me any of the required gear. I was completely ignored.

In the end I got fed up of waiting and left. For me, the journey was a complete waste (no pun intended) of time. While I admire the concept and goals of the project, there is not much point inviting people to take part if you don't help them out once they are there.

Although the first part of the exhibit was a let down, I am more interested in the second phase between the 25th July - 14th September. This is when we get to find out the results of the experiment.

Once the rubbish has been sifted through, it will continue its journey to either a recycling plant, landfill sight, or incineration chamber. The materials left over from these processes will then be brought back to the museum for display. Soafer is asking us to spare a second thought for the stuff we usually forget about. What happens to our rubbish after it is gobbled up by that big monster truck?

If you do plan on going to the exhibit, note that children under twelve are not allowed to take part in the first phase. This is meant to be for capacity reasons, but I don't exactly understand why, seeing how deserted the space was.
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Why? Think about what we waste
When: Until 14th Sept
Where: Science Museum
Cost: Free
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