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Museums Explore History of Rubbish in Europe

Representatives from museums on staircase for Rubbish project

Why should museums talk about rubbish? A topic that is by definition marginalised as it concerns what we dispose of and do not want to look at anymore, waste has become a central issue of our time. As places for learning, reflection and debate, connecting objects and stories across time, museums are uniquely positioned to expose the topic.

Since 2021, the House of European History has embarked on a museum-wide project that explores the issue of waste in Europe from a historical perspective and highlights its significance as a marker of social change. Alongside the preparation of a temporary exhibition on this subject, the museum brings together nine European museums active at local and national levels in the fields of natural history, ethnology, art and archaeology. Together, they explore how their collections, programmes and practices can become incentives for them to “talk trash” in a way that engages their audiences.

This Pan-European partnership resulted in the co-development of an online platform launched in early 2023 alongside the House of European History’s temporary exhibition in Brussels. In parallel, the partner museums implement a joint programme of activities for online and onsite audiences across Europe.

The partners explore the topic of waste from a transnational and transdisciplinary perspective under the following themes and objectives:

COLLECTIONS: Create connections between objects across countries and disciplines on the characteristics and meanings of waste.

STORIES: Focus on people by interviewing communities across Europe to understand their relationship with waste.

ECOSYSTEMS: Share knowledge and raise awareness about the presence and impact of waste on our surroundings.

NETWORKS OF TRASH: Connect knowledge and practices on waste management from different languages, regions, disciplines and communities.

THE ACTIVIST MUSEUM: Place sustainability at the core of museum work, by sharing best practices and exchanging resources.




Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art (Vienna, Austria)

“In the centre of the capital of Austria we are an open (minded) house and platform for past and current cultural and societal issues. We are interested in the discourses and practices that are rethinking aspects of environmental, social and gender justice. Applying and discussing these approaches on the topics of waste and rubbish at a European level is a very welcome challenge!”


Estonian National Museum (Tartu, Estonia)

“In our permanent exhibition Encounters and through temporary projects, we focus also on present man and environment. Picking stories from Baltics countries and placing them here at Raadi, a previous airfield location and now the brand new Estonian National Museum in Tartu, we are also talking about big processes and environmental history.”


Ettore Guatelli Museum Foundation (Ozzano Taro, Italy)

“Over the years, the Ettore Guatelli Museum has often addressed the issues of ecology, waste, and refuse. In the spring of 2022 we offer an exhibition titled Waste: People, Things, Places, which also walks in Ettore's footsteps, as it addresses themes that were already dear to him, but from a contemporary standpoint.”


Museum of European Cultures - National Museums in Berlin (Germany)

“In 2019, we at MEK, formulated a collection concept that identifies, among others, focus areas that will form the basis for thematic development of the MEK’s collection and exhibition activities in the coming years. Sustainability is one of those focus areas, responding to an important current social issue that is reflecting the everyday practices of keeping and throwing away as well as repairing, recycling and re-using.”


Celje Museum of Recent History (Celje, Slovenia)

“At our socially engaged and future-minded museum we research relevant issues related to the consequences of our way of life and seek to promote or facilitate positive change.”


Museum of Walloon Life - Province of Liège (Belgium)

“The next exhibition at our museum will open in 2022 and is dedicated to rubbish, mostly in Wallonia, but also in Belgium and Europe. This is the reason why we are excited to take part in this European project and get to share the experience with other museums, starting with the House of European History.”


National Museum of the Romanian Peasant (Bucharest, Romania)

“At the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant we have been organising ethnological research and exhibitions on recent key socio-cultural issues, and some of them have a research focus closely connected with the topic of rubbish.”



Museum of Natural History Vienna (Austria)

“The Natural History Museum aims to make a significant contribution to sustainable development in Austria, Europe and the world. We strive to achieve this goal through our excellent disciplinary, interdisciplinary and participatory research, by opening up our collections to a wider audience using digital technology, by employing innovative, inclusive and inspiring approaches to teaching science, and by becoming a fully carbon-neutral museum by 2030.”


National Ethnographic Museum (Warsaw, Poland)

“We joined House of European History’s initiative because we found connection points between our projects and exhibitions and this partnership on the history of waste. This project is a great opportunity for our internal Green Team, an initiative focused on sustainability, to create a reflection around trash and a chance for the whole institution to redefine our various collections. It is a pleasure to share our experience and knowledge with museums all around Europe.”