As on Earth, garbage is a problem in space. And when the nearest recycling center and landfill is hundreds of miles below, the task of reducing and removing garbage is even more of a challenge. There are researchers and companies that are working on ways to collect, compact, minimize, and recycle the trash that accumulates aboard the International Space Station (ISS), in addition to the waste now scattered in Earth’s orbit.

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No Ordinary Trash Pickup 

Trash day on the ISS is a costly and time-consuming procedure. Every bit of waste must be tracked before its loaded by the ton onto a spacecraft and collectively burned up when reentering Earth’s atmosphere. As astronauts use a considerable amount of plastic and must rely on wet wipes to clean surfaces, utensils, and more, waste can stack up quickly, even under carefully controlled living conditions.

Recycling Plastic In Space

Through NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, contractors are exploring technology that could help cut down on waste. The EARSMUS system, developed Tethers Unlimited, would allow astronauts to dispose of plastic packaging that could then be recycled into raw materials for 3D printing of food safe utensils and other items.

FileISS-18 Sandra Magnus and Yuri Lonchakov with food storage containers in the Zvezda Service Modulejpg

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A Better Compactor And Cleaning Supplies

NASA’s Ames Research Center has partnered with tech contractor Materials Modification Inc. to create a heat melt compactor that allows water vapor to be easily extracted using polyethylene bags so they can be compacted more efficiently.  The contractor is also working on an antimicrobial, self-cleaning surface coating that would reduce the need for wipes and cleaning supplies currently used aboard the ISS.


Clearing Trash With A Good Grip

To solve the problem of space debris that currently clogs Earth’s orbit and complicates space travel, Scientists at NASA and Stanford University are working on an gecko inspired robot that can grip and move any objects suspended in space. While still in prototyping mode, the technology may someday aid in the critical job of space trash collection, which would create a safer path for spacecraft leaving, entering, and orbiting Earth’s atmosphere.

What are your thoughts on these technological developments and the goal of controlling and reducing waste beyond Earth? Comment and let us know what you think.

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