Tracking Trash

Where the heck does our trash go?  I mean, I know my garbage goes to the landfill in Delta or up to the recently expanded Cache Creek, but what about everything else? What about those glass jars and cardboard boxes? What about the occasional plastic container? Is my stuff ending up in the great pacific garbage patch?

Although I have been assured by the guy at the local depot that everything is sold to local buyers, who the heck knows where it goes after that? And with heartbreaking films about garbage pickers and exposés about third world electronics dismantling on the rise, it’s no wonder we are all questioning what’s at the end of the line for the contents of our precious blue boxes.

So the smart folks over at MIT did more than just wonder. They decided to track their recycling. (yes, I’m a couple years behind the 8 ball on this, but it’s still fascinating)

They put tracking sensors on a bunch of waste in Seattle and booted it out the door. The results are pretty interesting.

First off, they generated some super cool tracking maps (that could be classified as art unto themselves). But seriously, I’ve thought a lot about where disposable items come from and the resources used to get them into our hands, but it’s even more crazy to think of how far something as simple as a single coffee cup might travel after its 10 minutes of useful life. And just think of the greater implications of tagging loads of recycling; it would become immediately apparent who is shipping stuff illegally or dumping in the ocean. That’s serious stuff.

I wanted to post some of the maps here, but they have a reproduction clause on their website, so you’ll have to go to to check it out.



Filed under consumerism, recycling

7 responses to “Tracking Trash

  1. Amanda

    Wow, this is really interesting. I always just presumed that my garbage went to the city landfill and my recycling, well, I really had no clue for the most part but I have heard stories of it being shipped overseas.

  2. That is really neat, thanks for sharing!

  3. Laurie

    I have seen and heard enough to make me seriously believe in the possibility that most items brought to recycling depots are probably landfilled in the end. What I would love to see is a true tracking of the recycled items to see what really happens to them all the way to their finished/new product reincarnation. I’m not really a fan of recycling (and as my city has been throwing, week after week, my carefully sorted and cleaned recycling into the garbage truck for years anyway) I’m not sure what the outcome of any “revelation” would be; I think we are too quick to see recycling as on par with reducing and reusing. But I am still very interested in knowing the truth, and thus we can begin working toward a reasonable solution.

  4. Thank you! This is a question that has bothered me for ages. I am about to explore that site thoroughly and am very excited to check out the maps.

  5. After seeing the film my friend Liz suggested another film could be following a piece of recycling, since it is on good faith and trust we allow it to leave our mind. But does it get to where we think it does? I’m really glad that someone has thought to track it even! Part of me always feels alone in the world of trying to be zero waste- it’s nice to feel slightly less so

  6. One way to help contribute to the environmental cleanup effort is to rent re-usable boxes when you are moving. There are companies all around the country who offer durable boxes that you can use to relocate your home or office, return them when done, and then someone else can use the same boxes.

  7. safaiicecream

    Thank you for putting this up. This questions has been bothering me for a long time and I’m glad it’s finally been answered. The maps are so intruguing to look at!

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