Using High Tech to Track Where Garbage Goes

Have you ever wondered what exactly happens to your garbage after you get rid of it?

In Seattle this month a group of MIT researchers will be attaching electronic tracking tags on about 3,000 pieces of trash.  They want to find out and get people thinking about what they throw away and where it ends up.

I am a techie at heart and I must say, this is pretty cool.  Reading about this research my mind quickly races to the use of Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) tags on every product and how we could theoretically track everyone’s garbage.  Maybe in the future when we purchase a product the RFID tag gets registered to the purchaser and they are charged for the expense of having to handle that trash if it is not disposed of properly?

Ok, so that idea is wrong on so many levels, not only would it add cost to the process, who would want to be tracked that closely?

The way it will work is that researchers will visit the homes of hundreds of Seattle volunteers to affix electronic tags on about 10 to 15 pieces of their household trash, such as pizza boxes, Styrofoam cups, slippers and scrap metal. The volunteers will dispose of the item as they normally would.

The electronic tags use GSM 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 program is designed to answer many questions about the efficiency, or inefficiency of the waste removal system.  Does recycling end up being recycled rather than in the landfill? Does it take weeks rather than hours or days for trash picked up from the neighborhood to get to the transfer station?  These are just some of the questions hopefully to be answered by the research.

Seattle was chosen based on its high recycling rates and subsequent general knowledge of disposal methods.  The program is being called SENSEable and will be on exhibit at Seattle’s Central Library Sept. 18.

I look forward to seeing the data and analyzing what it means.  I am really hopeful that the information gathered from this research will help improve recycling throughout the nation.

ENSO Bottles encourages recycling and are doing what we can to improve the recycling rates of the nation.


Danny Clark

ENSO Bottles, LLC