In the Trash Track project, garbage becomes a window through which we are able to see our once invisible and energy-intensive removal chain, prompting us to consider the impact of our waste.
Carlo Ratti and his team at MIT’s SENSEable City lab have chosen a strange proving ground for their sophisticated new tracking technology: urban waste management systems. Not afraid to get their hands dirty, they are attaching electronic tags to different kinds of refuse and plotting how it gets from garbage cans to land fills and recycling centers in real time. The project, called Trash Track, will throw light on how waste is processed, exposing and correcting inefficiencies in the system and encouraging individuals to own their pollution.
Initially, the project will be deployed in Seattle and New York, where Ratti’s team will recruit volunteers to take tags and track their own waste. “We want to tag the trash that represents well the overall kinds of things that you’d find in the domestic waste stream but also put some focus on those items that have a particular impact on the environment,” says Assaf Biderman, associate director of the project.
By plotting the paths of discarded coke bottles, cardboard boxes, and televisions, Ratti and his team want to find ways to improve the system, reducing carbon emissions, relieving traffic congestion in cities (fewer garbage trucks), and increasing the amount of garbage that is diverted from landfills into recycling and composting facilities. “We want to see if we can develop situations or scenarios of minimum waste, meaning we know where every resource is, where every object is, and we can actually utilize them in an optimal way,” Biderman says. “And the industry is very interested in the type of information we’re collecting,” he adds.
This project has already garnered attention from environmentalists, utility companies, and government officials. “Since this project has been out in the press you wouldn’t believe how many cities have approached us to do this,” Biderman says. In Seattle, the Trash Track team is already sharing information with Seattle Public Utilities, the very system they are critiquing.