contentmentfeatured-contentmentIssue 31

Making the World a Cleaner Place

By Noel Daniel

Maybe you’ve come across a very common ideology when it comes to cleaning: that is, that if you pick up one thing at a time, you can make a whole lot more progress than you’d think with significantly less effort than you’d expect. Sound familiar?

You also might’ve heard it from Jeff Kirschner’s TED talk on Litterati.

The idea behind Litterati is simple, but genius. All you have to do is download the app, take a photo of a piece of litter, tag it with its brand and the item, and throw it away. You even get a handy counter on your profile page that shows you how much litter you’ve picked up—and a button to instantly share the impact you’ve made via Twitter.

So what brought about this idea that is all at once simple but thoroughly effective? It was a hike that Jeff Kirschner was taking through the woods.

“I was hiking through the Oakland woods with my two little kids when my four-year-old daughter looked and saw that someone had thrown a kitty litter bottle in the creek,” said Kirschner. “She looked at me and said, ‘Daddy. That doesn’t go there.’”

It was enough to take him back to the days of camping as a child, and how the camp directors would ask the campers to pick up five pieces of litter on visiting days. “Why not apply that crowdsource cleaning to the entire planet?” Kirschner asked. It was then that Kirschner began documenting the litter he came across—like a cigarette he posted to Instagram. He took photo after photo, eventually adding the hashtag “#Litterati.” It became almost an art form, and soon Kirschner realized that he had been keeping a positive record of the impact he was having on the planet.

“I started telling people and word started spreading,” said Kirschner. “To make a long story a little bit longer, that first butt has turned into a little over 840,000 pieces of litter collectively. There is a community that is crowdsource cleaning the planet.”

This collective crowdsourcing has let to a plethora of data, from seasonal trends like Halloween candy or Fourth of July fireworks, to where litter is found most often.

“Every photo tells a story,” said Kirschner. “The minute you snap a photo, we understand who picked up what, where, and when. There’s a geotag, so we’re mapping problem areas.”

And problem areas are important to track. Litter is a massive problem with essentially no data, but that impacts the entire planet, economy, and community. The key idea here is that with all the plastic pollution entering the ocean, fish are feeding on plastic, and we’re eating the fish. In other words, while it may not seem apparent from the bottle cap just lying on the street, litter is poisoning our food system. It desperately needs to be addressed.

“At the core of what we’re doing is incentivizing a behavior of change,” said Kirschner. “It’s about continually building this community that is attracting more and more people. It has network effects: the more people that come to the network, the more value there is both for the individual and the end goal.

“Litterati is the epitome of that. You’re not alone in trying to solve this problem. Millions of other people are contributing to this same common good. Every new person adds that much more data and that many more things get picked up.” Since Litterati’s start, they’ve been working with brands, cities, and schools and are still trying to find ways to continue to build the app. They’ve been considering changes to include gamification, improve functionality, and more. In fact, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to grow the app even more. So, how much of an impact have they already had? Just how much litter has Kirschner picked up?

“A ton. More than you could ever imagine,” said Kirschner. “It just started with me, but it isn’t about me. It’s about ‘we.’ That’s the power of community. Individually, you can make a difference. Together, we can create an impact.”

Join the movement to make our planet a cleaner one—it’s amazing how much of an impact one person can make.


For more information, visit litterati.org.

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