MIT’s trash tracker – shows where it goes


I recently came across an interesting story about a new project being conducted by a group at MIT dubbed the SENSEable City Lab.  The project, called TrashTrack is geared towards creating a kind of living map of our municipal waste system, with the goal of illuminating possible inefficiencies and of making people generally more conscious of their daily consumption.  Beginning in New York and Seattle, the lab will be tagging thousands of pieces of trash with wireless location markers, and will then map the tagged items’ actual journey through the waste stream. The resulting trash”migration patterns” will be made available online and in live exhibitions starting this September.

It’s probably not widely known, to most people, exactly how our trash gets to where it’s going.  Most, of course realize that the landfill is the most likely destination for their rubbish, but do they know where their landfill is located? Does the truck that picks it up off their stoop take it directly to the dump, or does it get sorted first, or transferred to another vehicle, a barge, or a train even?  Does it travel far, to another state perhaps, or is it interned right there in their own community? Understanding these things are important to raising the level of consciousness around our individual consumption and the resulting contribution it makes to waste systems which are not generally understood by the public.

According to the EPA’s 2007 figures, the United States, generated approximately 254 million tons of municipal solid waste, with a recovery rate for recycling and composting of around 85 million tons or 32.5 percent.  This comes down to about 4.62 pounds of trash per person per day.  This is a significant daily impact, the appropriate handling of which is a critical element of the infrastructure of our cities.  I’m excited to see what really happens to my new york trash.  Though I think of myself as being pretty on-top of this type of information, I’m fairly sure I will be surprised to see how things really go down.


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