Created by the Dane County Department of Waste & Renewables in collaboration with Madison Children’s Museum, the Trash Lab is a mobile exhibit designed to educate and motivate us to create less trash and rethink our relationship with waste.
Housed in a fully accessible, 27-foot-long repurposed cargo trailer, Trash Lab features more than 10 playful interactive stations, engaging stories, and a wealth of data, along with compelling photography and video footage. The exhibit’s whimsical exterior and immersive interior environment will capture visitors’ imaginations as it travels throughout Southern Wisconsin. The exhibit explores the social justice, economic, and environmental effects of waste, connecting our local experiences to both local and global outcomes. Trash Lab will help citizens of all ages better understand the implications of the waste they produce, how landfills work, and new opportunities for more sustainable solutions.
The Trash Lab has also been designed to advance equity and inclusion of solid waste and recycling education. The Trash Lab can be hauled to events and taken to schools that may not otherwise have the means to travel to the DCDWR’s site to learn about solid waste & recycling. The Trash Lab is wheelchair accessible and there are also booklets available for visitors who wish for a Spanish translation of the exhibit materialls.
In early 2021, Trash Lab received recognition for Outstanding Achievement in Education from the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin.
True to its mission, the project models sustainable exhibit development. It uses predominantly repurposed materials, including a reclaimed trailer, reclaimed wood and stone, and assorted objects and artifacts found in the Dane County landfill. The entire ceiling of the trailer is lined with colorful items found in the waste stream, all in perfectly good condition, including an old rake, children’s toys, dinnerware, shoes, tires, jewelry, garden supplies, and car and truck parts. The overall weight of the project is 4,552 pounds, incorporating 4,100 pounds of reclaimed parts and materials (trailer, reclaimed hardwood, hardware, stone, objects and artifacts) and 452 pounds of new materials (plywood, plexiglass, wood, hardware, and lighting). Reclaimed materials account for 90% of the exhibit’s weight. It doesn’t just stop there either. The Trash Lab exhibits were also designed with modularity, meaning the exhibits can be taken out with relative ease. This design with end of life in mind allows the Trash Lab to be used as a hauling trailer again at its end of life.
When not traveling, Trash Lab will be permanently housed at the Dane County landfill, where it is expected to welcome hundreds of visitors annually as part of Dane County’s public tours of the landfill and on-site renewable energy plant. Trash Lab fans can follow the Trash Lab’s journey and tag their experiences exploring the vehicle at the Dane County Trash Lab Instagram page @renewaste