Tracking Seattle's trash
Sound familiar? How long do you think those paper towels were actually being used? All of thirty seconds? Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are demonstrating through a new study how much time and energy it takes to dispose of our garbage, some of which is only used for a few seconds. Seattle’s reputation as an ecologically savvy city earned us the right to participate in the study.
Through the project, overseen by M.I.T.’s Senseable City Laboratory, 3,000 common pieces of garbage, mostly from Seattle, are to be tracked through the waste disposal system over the next three months. The researchers will display the routes in real time online and in exhibitions opening at the Architectural League of New York on Thursday and the Seattle Public Library on Saturday.Seattlites donated garbage this summer ranging from soiled coffee cups to a washing machine, which the MIT researchers then tagged with small electronic tracking devices.
Collecting, sorting, transporting and eventually disposing of trash is an expensive and challenging job for cities. Not only will studying garbage's journeys help waste managers create new efficiencies in the waste system, but it will also educate the public about the life of objects once they leave their possession. Those paper towels didn’t just disappear when I tossed them into the trash can.
Seattle has been reducing its waste and increasing its recycling for five straight years. In 2008, it recycled fifty percent of its trash, easily beating the national average of 32.1 percent. We are definitely getting the hang of it.
MIT expects to have results of the study available in a few months, but in the meantime, anyone can check out an exhibit on the Seattle Library’s fifth floor, displaying the route, location and travel time for each piece of tagged trash. You can learn much more about the project at the Senseable City website and test your recycling know how with this cute online game.
In reality, I always use a cloth to wipe up spills, never a paper towel. It’s a lot less expensive and think of all the trees that aren't sacrificed cleaning up my mistakes.