MIT’s Trash Tracking Project

Flickr user basmati-authentic help


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are attaching tracking devices to pieces of garbage in Seattle and charting their journey through the global disposal and recycling system. I’ll admit to being a bit jealous. Earlier this year, I too followed my trash, starting in my apartment in San Francisco (which recycles more than any other major city), and continuing through the city dump and beyond. I’d wanted to employ tracking devices but after consulting with everyone from a friend at Wired to device manufacturers in Taiwan, couldn’t find anything sufficiently small and affordable. Indeed, the Times reports that MIT’s plan to use battery-powered tags based on cell phone technology will cost more than $300,000:

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.

Interestingly, the $300,000 is coming from Waste Management, the nation’s largest landfill company. When I followed my own trash to Waste Management’s Altamont Landfill, the project had seemed novel the company’s spokesperson. Most of my story focused on the recycling efforts of Waste Management’s competitor, Recology, which handles garbage pickup and recycling in San Francisco (but dumps at Altamont). Could the MIT project be a way for Waste Management to co-opt the idea for its own PR purposes? Probably so. But it’s also just plain cool, and I’m glad they’re doing it.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.