Electronic Tagging Uncovers Surprising Journey Endured by Garbage

Tracking the path of trash

Ever wonder where your trash ends up days or weeks after tossing it in the bin? A research initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) SENSEable City Lab launched a study in 2009 to learn just that. The team of researchers tagged normal household trash with high-tech electronic tags to find out where garbage ultimately ends up once hauled away.

How it Worked

The MIT experiment consisted of recruiting 500 citizens of Seattle, WA who were asked to place a small electronic tracking tag on a piece of their household trash. The electronic tags were about the size of a cigarette lighter, and they operated on the GSM cellular network. The team tracked the tagged trash by monitoring its location in relation to nearby cell towers – a method referred to as CellID triangulation.

electronic trash tracking tag

The MIT research team has also launched subsequent studies using more advanced tracking devices utilizing both cellphone networks and GPS technology, allowing for more accurate location data.

Where did the Trash Go?

The results of the team’s first study were quite surprising. Rather than the trash heading to the nearest municipal landfill, like most of us would think, the 500 tagged pieces of garbage made their way across the country over the following 6 to 8 weeks. Some pieces landed as far away as Southern Florida!

What’s the Purpose of Tracking Trash?

The team’s ultimate purpose for conducting these studies is to raise awareness about sustainable practices. For instance, reducing the amount of trash each person produces – it’s estimated the average American produces more than 4-lbs. of trash per day.

The study also paints a clearer picture about how trash is handled in the U.S. The reality is that land is becoming increasingly scarce in most parts of the U.S. and landfill space is at a premium.

Over the past decade, several key innovations in waste removal/handling have come about. One such innovation involves burning the trash and converting it to electricity. Not only is it an efficient way to produce energy from trash, but it also reduces the amount of trash that actually reaches the landfill. The trash incineration process reduces an average sized garbage bag down to ashes small enough to fit in the palm of your hands.

Other ways to reduce the amount of trash that reaches landfills is composting and recycling. At Hometown, we put the environment first and encourage trash haulers and junk removal companies to utilize eco-friendly trash removal practices.

Watch the MIT Trash Tracking Research Video

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