Creating A Litter-Free World

Photo by Zak Noyle

It’s everywhere. Laying in our streets. Stranded on our beaches. Floating in our oceans. Litter is so widespread that it blends into the background of our lives. Soda cans, plastic bottles, and cigarette butts pollute the environment, choke wildlife, and threaten our existence. We live in a throwaway culture, where immediate consumption and disposable packaging are the norm. And with seven billion of us sharing the planet, the problem is only getting worse.

Litterati is here to change that.

Inspired by my four-year old daughter, Litterati is a global community that’s cleaning the planet — one piece of litter at a time. It all started when I took this photograph on Instagram and added the hashtag “#Litterati”.

Over the next few days, I photographed, tagged and threw away twenty more pieces. In doing so, something interesting happened. Litter became approachable, less daunting. A discarded, rusty old bottle cap turned into an opportunity to be artistic.

Perhaps more importantly, those twenty photographs of litter were a way of measuring the impact I was having on the planet. That’s twenty less pieces that someone might step on, or some animal might ingest. At the time, I didn’t know what I could do with that information, I just thought it was cool. So I started telling people what I was doing.

One cigarette butt turned into 150,000+ pieces and a movement that’s cleaning up the world.

There’s more. Each photo is full of data. Geotags map problem areas. Timestamps indicate when we see specific types of litter (after Halloween, it was candy wrappers, July 5th, flags and fireworks). Hashtags identify the most commonly found brands and products. How might companies use this information to be more environmentally mindful? It could lead to product innovation, sustainable packaging, and educating their customers. Instead of being seen as the villain, they can be the hero.

Cities can benefit. They can use this information to be smarter about how to allocate their limited resources, engage more effectively with citizens, and create healthier, happier communities.

But changing the world means changing our behavior and there’s no better place to start than with our children. Schools are now using Litterati as a citizen-science tool. And they’re already making a difference.

For example, the 4th & 5th graders of Fremont Open School in Modesto, CA 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. That’s how we fulfill our mission of eradicating litter from our planet. Ambitious? Certainly. But consider the alternative.

Our world’s most complex problems require long-term thinking and even a change in consciousness. But we’re committed to making it happen. So we’re building the tools today, to realize a vision for tomorrow.

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.