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Keywords:

  • global production networks;
  • global value chains;
  • waste;
  • used clothing;
  • ship breaking;
  • commodity chains

The dominant political-economic approaches to global trade flows known as global value chains and global production networks offer powerful insights into the coordination and location of globally stretched supply chains, in particular from global South to North. By way of both conceptual and empirical challenge, this paper highlights flows of end-of-life goods from the global North towards the global South. This involves the disassembly and destruction of goods to recover secondary resources for further rounds of commodity production. Global recycling networks take things of rubbish value (often spent or end-of-life goods) and turn them back into resources in other places and production networks. They operate not through adding value, but by connecting different regimes of value. The paper does not set out a new conceptual framework, but asks what challenges the rekindling of value in used goods creates for global commodity chain analysis and what insights those approaches bring to looking at waste flows. The examples of used clothing and end-of-life merchant ships are mobilised to illustrate the dynamics of global recycling networks and to challenge prevailing commodity chain approaches in three key areas – supply logics and crosscutting networks, value and materiality, and inter-firm governance. We argue that resource recovery engenders highly complex and brokered forms of governance that relate to practices of valuing heterogeneous materials and that contrast markedly with the modes of coordination dominated by big capital typical of global production networks for consumer goods.