SEATTLE - Using an electronic tracking device about the size of a matchbook, MIT researchers are tagging about 3,000 pieces of Seattle trash to get people thinking about what they throw away and where it ends up.
“Seeing where your trash goes allows you to change your behavior,’’ said Assaf Biderman, associate director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City lab and a project leader. “Will you refill a cup instead of throwing away a disposable one?’’
Researchers are visiting the homes of hundreds of Seattle volunteers to affix electronic tags on about 10 to 15 pieces of their household trash, such as pizza boxes, Styrofoam cups, slippers, and scrap metal. The volunteers will dispose of the items as they normally would.
The battery-operated smart tags rely on cellphone 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 public will be able to follow the trash migration at an exhibit that opens at Seattle’s Central Library on Sept. 18.
Biderman said the project will allow researchers to study in detail the efficiency of the waste removal system.
Does recycling end up being recycled? Does it take weeks rather than hours or days for trash picked up from one Seattle neighborhood to get to the transfer station?
“We’re definitely a throw-away society that sets it and forgets it,’’ said Brett Stav, planning and development specialist with Seattle Public Utilities. “A lot of people forget about what happens to the things that they throw away, and they don’t really factor in their impact.’’