Tracking Trash… By GPS?

We pack it in. We pack it out. But then what? A team of MIT researchers aim to find out, and change the public view of trash and the environment

Here at Backpacker, we’re obsessed with GPS (obviously). We’re also obsessed with the environment (again, obviously). That’s why we’re intrigued by one of the Massachusetts’ Institute of Technology’s latest experiments: Trash Track.

On Tuesday, MIT researchers announced the experiment, a project that will use GPS cellular technology to electronically track 3,000 pieces of common garbage over the next three months. In Seattle, New York City and soon, London, disposed items ranging from paper coffee cups and plastic bottles to aluminum cans and liquid soap containers, will be “trash tagged” and their journey to a recycled birth or landfill burial will be monitored by researchers looking to define the patterns and costs of waste removal.

The project, inspired by New York City’s Green Initiative’s goal to divert 100 percent of the city’s recyclables from landfills, also aims to get people thinking about what they buy, use, and then throw away.

"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, explained in Tuesday’s press release. "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."

And, MIT is following through on creating trash transparency. Unlike most research studies, we don’t have to wait the three plus months for the project’s results. The migration patterns of the tagged trash will be available in real time online and in exhibits in the Architectural League in New York City and at Seattle’s public library.

Ah, GPS, the environment, waste disposal awareness, and trash transparency at my fingertips… technology certainly can be a grand thing.

–Jessie Lucier

Tracking Trash

Track Trash Web site