Sorting, shredding and smelting scrap

The production of value by deformation 
at a high-tech recycler of electronic waste

  • Stefan Laser RUSTlab, Ruhr University Bochum
Keywords: Electronic waste, high-tech recycling, ethnography, accounting, economic value, materials


The global economy of e-waste recycling has received much attention in recent waste studies literature. This article gives an account from the inside of two different sites within a leading high-tech recycling and smelting company in which such e-waste is assessed; and discusses the valuation of electronic waste in the course of its industrial processing. Based on a two-month long ethnography by way of an internship, the article examines how the recycler manages to distinguish and separate out valuable ‘scrap’, in contrast to valueless ‘waste’. The article subdivides the inquiry into two questions. What practices are involved when transforming e-waste into scrap and waste? And how can we appreciate differences in how they are configured? The study of two different facilities in operation next to one another provides additional leverage to the inquiry since the valuation practices involved when assessing the incoming e-waste differ between them. Differences are tied to specificities in how the electronics are sorted out, shredded, and smelted. The article shows how these processes of deformation are linked to the valuation practices and the accounting system of the company. Calculations, it is argued, succeed only because things are literally broken.

How to Cite
Laser, Stefan. 2020. “Sorting, Shredding and Smelting Scrap”. Valuation Studies 7 (2), 221-55.