My garbage went to South Carolina and all I got was…

Walker Larsen

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about where your garbage goes once it gets picked up from your curb. What’s that? You don’t wonder about the final resting place or you trash and recyclables? Well you should, and now, thanks to the MIT SENSEable City lab, you don’t have to wonder at all; you can know.

Trash Track  is a process in which a tiny tracking chip is placed on a specific piece of regular waste. The MIT system can then track the location of the chip as it navigates the waste management system. You can see if that scrap of pressure-treated wood ends up in the landfill on the other side of the state or a barge to South Carolina; you can see if your old battery actually makes it to the proper disposal location; you can see if that yogurt container actually gets sent to the recycling facility. How awesome is that?! Surely I’m not the only person excited by this…

Waste management in the US is “out of sight, out of mind” for most people. But if we continue to generate as much waste as we do now, it is going to become less and less out of sight for more and more people, with myriad social justice implications as well as environmental and human health impacts.

Hopefully Trash Track is just the start of better public information about our waste system; information that will allow all of us to better understand the impact of our “consume and dispose” lifestyle. And like anyone with a background in philosophy and faith in humanity I know that this new knowledge will result in meaningful change…right?

Suppose knowledge is not sufficient to elicit change; what can we do? I’ll share some thoughts in my next post. Feel free to share thoughts of your own in the comments below.

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