Just as barcoding trees could help save forests, electronically tagging trash could limit waste. That’s the thinking behind MIT’s Trash Track program, that will use electronic tags to track waste in its trip through the disposal systems of New York and Seattle. The initial goal isn’t to track every piece of waste that passes through–it’s to raise awareness of urban disposal costs and the impact of trash on the planet. MIT Professor Carlo Ratti compares it to nuclear medicine, that tracks the movement of a tracer through the human body. You could also think of it as an electronic conscience nagging you to recycle.
Beginning in September, volunteers in New York and Seattle will have wireless location markers affixed to thousands of pieces of their trash affixed to wireless location markers. The markers determine location through triangulation and report it to a central server, where the garbage is analyzed and processed. The journey is available for the world to see in exhibits at the Architectural League in New York City and the Seattle Public Library.
The MIT team hopes that the Trash Track system could eventually be expanded widely enough to impact recycling rates. Because when you know where your trash is going, its much harder to forget about it once it’s dropped in the garbage.