What to do with waste is a problem not limited to the confines of planet Earth. NASA scientists are also wondering how to solve the problem of waste generated on board spacecrafts, and how that waste might be recycled into new items. Researchers are now trying to figure out a closed-loop system for space trash -- from plastic water bottles and foil drink pouches to old clothing -- and are coming up with interesting reuses.
Researchers from NASA's Ames Research Center in California came up with a trash compactor that melts waste but doesn't incinerate it, transforming a day's worth of waste into an 8-inch-diameter tile. A possible use for the tiles is as radiation shields around sleeping quarters or other areas of a spacecraft.
NASA reports, "Handling trash is an important consideration for NASA mission planners and astronauts for several reasons. First, no one wants a cramped spacecraft to become overrun with garbage. Second, resources will be extremely limited for a crew that will be expected to live in space for up to two years, the time it would take for a Mars mission. Crews cannot simply jettison trash as they go through space because it could land on -- and possible contaminate -- a planet or moon. NASA policy dictates avoiding contaminating other worlds."
The team is currently studying if the tiles are completely sterilized during the heated compaction. After all, it wouldn't be a good idea to have bacteria-laden trash tiles laying around an enclosed area. Also under study is if any water can be removed from the trash and used for drinking water for the crew, since every drop is important, and extremely hard to come by in space!