Recycling

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Wolof peoples, Senegal, recycling. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.

The melding of the past into the present is at the heart of recycling—an art form as well as a livelihood that has relevance in today's world economy and a common form of culture-building that emerges both in adaptation to and in protest against cultural exploitation. In Africa, broken or worn-out objects are often transformed from purposes associated with the socioeconomic class of their first possessors to others deemed more appropriate to the needs of the vast majority of people who cannot afford the luxuries enjoyed by the original owners. Examples range from buckets made from tire tubes and wood stoves from defunct refrigerators to open-wick kerosene lamps from burned-out light bulbs. As Allen Roberts states, the “technology brokers” who invent and fabricate such ingenious objects mediate between African and Western worlds as they react to needs, take elements of both worlds, and rethink them.