Published on August 3rd, 2009 | by Guest Contributor


Where Does Your Garbage Go? MIT Wants To Find Out

You buy something, bring it home, unwrap it, and toss the package in the trash can. On garbage day you put it all into a bigger trash can out on the curb and the magical garbage truck takes it away. But where does the garbage truck take the trash? Well, a landfill, or it gets burned, or it goes overseas, or something, right? The U.S. creates around 200 billion tons of trash every year- where does it go?

Photo Credit: Fuzzy GerdesGarbage barge being towed out of NYC

Garbage barge leaving NYC

“Think about a future where thanks to smart tags we will not have waste anymore. Everything will be traceable,” says Carlo Ratti, member of “The Trash Track” team of the MIT Sensible City Lab.

The concept behind the Trash Track Project is to deploy “smart tags” into city trash to see where the trash goes. The tags will work like very small cell phones with limited functionality, utilizing global mobile networks to trace trash. Smart tags relay their journey to a central database that shows where they are going and eventually where they end up. The same MIT team used similar technology to track people around cities like Rome and Copenhagen as well as crowds in Washington during Obama’s inauguration.

According to Ratti, the goal of the project is, “How do we learn more about the removal chain?” Ideally, if people confront the final journey of their waste, they will reduce what they throw away. The project plans to begin work with around 3,000 pieces of trash in New York, Seattle and London, and is trying out different materials to encase the smart tags, from resin to foam. Initial results of the project are set to be shown at exhibitions in both Seattle and New York.

“The impact this could have on waste management and removal… could be significant, so these kinds of experiments could be much more useful than harmful for the environment,” said Assaf Biderman, one of the project leaders.

The results of the US studies will be shown at two exhibitions in Seattle and New York during September. Carlo Ratti explains the project futher in a two minute video.

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