MIT’s Trash Track: Gathering Insights from the Things We Throw Away
If the stories behind our physical things help to add value at the point of purchase (provenance) and throughout the lifetime of a product (object narrative), why can’t that value extend beyond our ownership and follow these items to their final resting places? With the launch of their newest project, Trash Track, MIT researchers from the SENSEable City Laboratory endeavor to do just that, using electronic tags to trace the things we throw away as they move through the entire disposal system.
By monitoring the time and costs associated with transporting our garbage to dumps and landfills, the MIT team hopes to provide deeper insight into our consumer habits, as well as highlight any inefficiencies in the recycling and sanitation systems.
“The study of what we could call the ‘removal chain’ is becoming as important as that of the supply chain,” the lab’s associate director, Assaf Biderman, explains. “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.”
The pilot study will take place in New York City and Seattle, where thousands of pieces of trash will get tagged and monitored during their journeys. Data from these markers will be uploaded to a central server where it can be processed and analyzed in real time.
Beyond the implications noted above, the further development and pervasiveness of these smart tags (without creating more waste in the process one hopes), could lead to a complete overhaul of our sanitation system and bring us closer to attaining a goal of 100% recycling for those materials that are eligible. We’re certainly not going to go running to the dump anytime a stray plastic bottle or aluminum can accidentally winds up there, but at the same time, it gets us thinking about the systems we already have in place.