Trash Track


The Trash Track project was conceived in thesummer of 2008 as a proposal for the Towardthe Sentient City exhibition, organized by the Architectural League of New York. Rex Britter, avisiting scientist with the SENSEable City Lab,suggested the idea of tracking garbage in the city in order to better understand the collection of waste — which Bill Mitchell dubbed the ‘removal chain’ as the counterpart to the supply chain — and eventually improve its logistics. Tracking trash intrigued us both as a window into its environmental impact on the city and as an extension to the Lab’s past work in diffuse pervasive digital sensing to explore the physical context of the city.


Back in July (2009), MIT launched an experiment to track trash through the various disposal systems via RFID tags and see if the ability to visualize what happens to trash – and the fact that there is no “away” – might change consumer habits and lighten the burden we place on the environment with all our “disposable” goods. The first results of the experiment are in, and they’re being shown off at two exhibitions.

Trash Track uses custom-designed electronic tags to track different types of waste on their final journey through the disposal systems of New York, London, and Seattle. Waste Management funded the study which, in July, let loose some 3,000 smart tags on waste objects in New York, Seattle, and London. The team has been monitoring the path of the trash in real-time, with the tags reporting location data to a central server at MIT. The information shows up on dynamic maps, where it can be monitored and analyzed.“Our tags are similar to a small cell phone, but have no keyboard or screen. To maximize battery life, we use a fine-grain motion sensor within the tags, which currently last for up to two months on a single charge,” says Kristian Kloeckl, one of the project’s leaders. 


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

Links: MIT News, The making of trash track,


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