Where Does Your Trash and Recycling Go Exactly?

by Dawn Quirk

The Dirty Search for Answers

That’s a question many of us cannot answer. Leaves you a little unsettled, doesn’t it? For Karin Landsberg, a self-deemed “eco-geek” and transportation planner for Washington State, it had been too long wondering. Working together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , she began a project this past August to investigate the route of her trash and recycling beginning in her home and ending…well that’s precisely what she hoped to discover.

Using battery powered tags based on cell phone technology to tag 12 pieces of trash and recycling, Landsberg and MIT will wait for the next few months as researchers analyze the data generated by the cellular signals. And although there are limitations in tracking, such as the chance of crushing in-transit, for the most part the tags are projected to do their duty. A similar project, on a grander scale, was undertaken by the Architectural League of New York in September, using 3,000 common pieces of garbage to be tracked over the next 3 months.

So why the need for this elaborate tracking system; doesn’t anyone know where our trash goes? Lynn Brown, a spokeswoman for Waste Management Inc., says that “from a logistics standpoint, it’s a very complicated situation. When you look at how waste is handled in different cities, it’s like snowflakes. It’s all different.” Reassuring…

The ultimate goal of Landsberg, M.I.T., and all dedicated followers of the story? To expose any inefficiencies in the waste management organization in order to create a more efficient system. Visuals and data of the tracked trash is on exhibit in the Architectural League of NY, from September 17 to November 17. We’ll keep you posted all along the trash-ridden way, or check out the exhibit’s website.