This essay argues that efforts to recuperate the ecological damage of industrial waste as a profitable resource obscure the broader procedures by which human bodies, substances, energies, and desires are also yielded as resources in an economic model of indefinite expansion. The “cradle-to-cradle” proposition for a zero-waste society thus corresponds with the expanding scope and complex operations by which lives are deprived of plenitude and starved of excess, so that suffering and need become potential resources themselves. Through the artworks of Thomas Hirschhorn, Melanie Bonajo, and Tara Donovan, this essay shows that the ideal of zero-waste conceals the wasting of human and ecological life on which the economy is predicated.

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