Waste Wanders Without Wisdom









Can you imagine a future where disposing of immense amounts of trash is no longer an issue?!! If we could understand the ‘removal-chain’, we could build more efficient, sustainable waste systems and promote behavioral change.  The final journey of our trash will no longer be “out of sight, out of mind”,  so a lid thrown away in Brooklyn would tell us how it became an ingredient in Ocean Plastic Soup!!

SENSEable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the NYC Green Initiative are using a project called TrashTrack to investigate how technology can expose us to the realities of our waste.  This idea started as a proposal for an exhibition called Toward the Sentient City sponsored by The Architectural League of New York.  When Seattle resident and sustainability advocate, Tim Pritchard, discovered the opportunity to dig into the fate of trash, he proposed Seattle be the guinea pig.  Seattle has one of the country’s highest recycling rates, they are charged by the amount of trash they produce, instead of a monthly fee, they are a major port, they have interstate rail lines, which they use to transport trash to Oregon, and they have a reputation for being a green community invested in sustainability.

Tim, like many of us, had no idea what happens to the stuff we throw away. Not even the king of trash, the CEO for Waste Management, the largest waste company in the world, has a clear view of how trash ends up where it does.  One of the lead trash trackers, Dietmar Offenhuber, said “”People working in waste removal don’t really have a clear picture of where the stuff goes, so we were fascinated to see this invisible infrastructure unfolding.”

TrashTrack attaches thousands of small, smart, location aware tags to different kinds of trash so that these items can be followed.  Their current battery life could last upto 30 hours in constant motion or 3-6 months if the object had no movement. Check out their video to get a sense of how this works. They hope these tags will someday become smart dust – networks of tiny locatable and addressable microeletromechanical systems- visually revealing the final journey of our everyday objects in real time.

Video credits: E Roon Kang – video / motiongraphics; Carnaven Chiu – visualization; Dietmar Offenhuber – visualization / proj. lead; Armin Linke – videofootage; Assaf Biderman – storyboard; Carlo Ratti – storyboard / concept 

Can sensors and mobile technologies radically transform how we understand and describe our cities, manage our resources and  change our behavior?!  If our goal is to achieve zero waste then smart trash could be the inspiration to make it possible.  Businesses and communities can contact Qualcomm to get a commercial version of these trackers to explore the end life of your trash.

My apologies! I promised to post last week but alas fashion got in the way!

Until next week,

Garbage Girl



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