Few days ago, I was invited to open the Clean World Conference 2017 “Connecting Heroes”, in Tallinn, Estonia. This is the annual conference of the environmental activists that support the global movement Let’s Do It World where roughly 200 people from 64 different countries gathered to discuss the next steps of their movement. It was there when I met Jeff Kirschner, the inventor of Litterati, a community that using a mobile app identifies, maps and collects the world’s litter. We were both speaking at the opening and we found the opportunity to socialise for a while. Jeff is a young dynamic and thoughtful guy who loves Bruce Springsteen (as I do also) and we share the same passion for making mobile phones useful tools for sustainability. His lecture was brilliant and he created a huge impact with his hands-on practical approach to a very challenging problem.
Jeff Kirschner was hiking through the woods in Oakland, California when his daughter noticed a plastic tub of cat litter in a creek. “Daddeeeeee,” she said in a puzzled voice. “That doesn’t go there.” That was the eye-opening moment. That moment reminded Jeff of a lesson he learned as a kid at summer camp. On visiting day, just before the parents visited, the kids would each have to pick up five pieces of litter. Essentially, they were crowdsource-cleaning the camp. So Jeff decided why not apply that same model to the entire planet? And leverage technology to do it. That’s when Litterati was born.
I am sure Litterati Community is going to deliver much more in the future, so I thought it will be very useful to ask Jeff to prepare a post. Enjoy it.
“Have you heard of Litterati? They’re a global community that’s cleaning the planet – one piece of litter at a time. This movement has attracted everyone from students to surfers to scientists and is in over 100 countries. And it all started because of a 4 year old girl.
It began as a hashtag on Instagram and now has turned into a mobile application (download the iOS version) being used around the world. It’s not just about cleaning up the world, Litterati is focused on getting smarter about the problem. The community is generating a ton of data.
Each photo is full of information. Hashtags identify brands and products (ie: #McDonalds, #Plastic). Geotags map problem areas. Timestamps indicate the times of year we see specific types of litter. Litterati is creating “litter fingerprints” all over the world.
Imagine how this data can make a difference. Litterati has worked with several cities to do just that, including one project where they provided the city of San Francisco with data that measured the percentage of litter that came from cigarettes. The city used that data to help pass a tax on cigarette sales, generating a multi-million dollar revenue stream.
Litterati has also started talking to brands. How might this information lead to brands becoming more environmentally mindful? It could lead to product innovation, sustainable packaging, and educating their customers. Instead of being seen as the villain, they can become the hero.
Schools are using Litterati as a citizen-science tool. And they’re already making a difference. One group of 5th graders picked up 1247 pieces of litter. More importantly, they were able to identify their school’s most common type of litter — plastic straw wrappers from the cafeteria.
Armed with this information, they approached the principal and asked why the school was still buying individually wrapped straws.
So they made a change. They stopped using straws and started using reusable water bottles. Simple and effective.
Individuals, companies, cities, and schools working together towards a greater goal. That’s how we solve this problem Ambitious? Certainly. But consider the alternative. Our world’s most complex problems require long-term thinking and even a change in consciousness. But it starts with one simple act. And for anyone who believes this problem is too big, that your contribution won’t matter, you’re wrong. You can make a difference. And together, we create an impact. Join the Litterati.