Dedicated followers of trash

by Antonio Pasolini on July 26, 2009

Trash Track project examines impact of trash on the environment with tagging system.

MIT researchers are always coming up with interesting stuff and Trash Track is definitely something to blog about. We know that alongside renewable energy, decreasing consumption, avoiding meat and recycling effectively are also very high up on the greener future to-do list. So what is this project about?

New York and Seattle will be the target cities, where volunteers will be enlisted to allow pieces of their trash to be electronically tagged with special wireless location markers (or “trash tags”). Thousands of these markers, attached to a waste sample representative of the city’s overall consumption, will calculate their location through triangulation and report it to a central server, where the data will be analyzed and processed in real time. The public will be able to view the migration patterns of the trash online, as well as in an exhibit at the Architectural League in New York City and in the Seattle Public Library, starting in September 2009.

“Trash is one of today’s most pressing issues — both directly and as a reflection of our attitudes and behaviors,” says Professor Carlo Ratti, head of the MIT Senseable City Lab. “Our project aims to reveal the disposal process of our everyday objects, as well as to highlight potential inefficiencies in today’s recycling and sanitation systems. The project could be considered the urban equivalent of nuclear medicine —when a tracer is injected and followed through the human body.”

Trash Track was initially inspired by the Green NYC Initiative, whose goal is to increase the rate of waste recycling in New York to almost 100 percent by 2030. Currently, only about 30 percent of the city’s waste is diverted from landfills for recycling. “We hope that Trash Track will also point the way to a possible urban future: that of a system where, thanks to the pervasive usage of smart tags, 100 percent recycling could become a reality,” says research assistant, Musstanser Tinauli.

“The study of what we could call the ‘removal chain’ is becoming as important as that of the supply chain,” explains the lab’s associate director, Assaf Biderman. “Trash Track aims to make the removal chain more transparent. We hope that the project will promote behavioral change and encourage people to make more sustainable decisions about what they consume and how it affects the world around them.”

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