I live in a house with six other people (half of whom graduated from MIT), and together we care for three ducks, two chickens, and several tanks of fish. I can say with total confidence that our house produces a lot of trash.

Now some of that trash—food scraps, coffee grounds, the straw used to line the duck run, etc—gets composted in our backyard, and then we use the compost as garden fertilizer, or we give it away.

But the rest of our trash disappears along with the recycling on Friday mornings. And I have no idea where it goes.

Researchers at MIT’s SENSEable City lab are hoping to change that. A new project called Trash Track is using location-aware smart tags to document where 3,000 pieces of garbage go once they have been disposed of, with the dual intention of making the refuse removal chain more transparent and highlighting potential inefficiencies in city sanitation systems.

Alum and associate director of the lab Assaf Biderman ′05 recently told Popular Science that, “The study of what we could call the ‘removal chain’ is becoming as important as that of the supply chain.'”

Below, check out a screenshot of a visualization depicting the route of a Starbucks coffee cup in Seattle:


The Trash Talk project will be exhibited at the Architectural League in New York City and in Seattle starting September 2009. Stay tuned for details.