What happens after we throw something in a garbage can? From the user’s perspective, it disappears once the trash collectors pick it up (if you live in an area with municipal trash collection, of course; I grew up in a rural area where everyone had to deal with their own trash). Where does it go? Sometimes items are taken to a dump not far from where it was thrown away and either buried, bulldozed into large heaps, or incinerated.

But Carlo Ratti, an architect who works with the SENSEable City Lab at MIT, directed a project to find out just how far garbage can travel, with the goal of helping us understand the “removal chain” that conveniently disappears our trash for us as well as we’ve come to understand the global supply chains that bring us items in the first place. His team asked 500 people in Seattle to tag items they would be throwing out anyway with small tracking chips. They tagged a total of 3,000 objects, everything from tin cans to cell phones to sneakers. And the results showed that some of the items we get rid of can go on a rather dramatic journey, traveling thousands of miles:

The Trash Track website contains information about the methodology and ideas behind the project.

Thanks to Dmitriy T.M. for the tip!