September 25, 2009

Where Does Our Garbage Go?

Tracking Seattle’s Trash.

Ever wonder what happens to that ink cartridge you so diligently recycled or the coffee cup that claims to be biodegradable? What really happens after we dispose of our things?

In a new project called Trash Track, SENSEable City Laboratory, a new research initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, placed microchip sensors on the trash of several Seattle volunteers.

The battery-operated smart tags rely on cell phone technology to send information back to MIT computers, allowing researchers – and the public – to monitor the trash in real-time as it moves through the waste stream to its final destination. The project will allow researchers to study in detail how efficiently, or inefficiently, the waste removal system works. –The Associated Press

Volunteers were asked to dispose of the tagged items as they normally would and then given the opportunity to track the items as they moved throughout the disposal system.

The results of this project are now on display at the Seattle Central Library as an exhibition on the lifecycle of garbage.

From the Track Trash website, I noticed an interesting occurrence with recyclable materials. Many of the tracked items traveled significant distances for proper disposal. Doesn’t thing nullify the purpose of recycling by using fuel to transport the materials? If we are going to effectively recycle, then the recycling facility must be a local destination. Transporting recyclables to a distant facility is like buying peaches from Argentina: it is wasteful and irresponsible when there is a comparable local alternative.

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