An app called Litterati hopes to save cities money and rid the world of litter one piece at a time.
Litterati founder and CEO Jeff Kirschner says his inspiration for the app started when his two young kids noticed a plastic tub of cat litter lying in a creek as they were walking through the woods. They knew that the plastic tub did not belong in the creek.
Kirschner says, “It reminded me of when I was a kid going to camp. The camp director would often say quick, everybody go pick up five pieces of litter. And so you’d have a couple hundred of us each picking up five pieces, and within a few minutes we had a spotless camp, and I thought why not apply that crowdsource cleanup model to the planet.”
You can download the Litterati app for free on any iPhone or Android device. Then when you find your first piece of litter, open the app, snap a picture of what you found, and upload it; it’s that simple.
“That photo holds quite a bit of data, we’re able to understand who is picking up what, where and when,” says Kirschner.
Of course, privacy is important to the company, so you are able to sign up anonymously and turn off your location. All the app would have access to is a timestamp and a look at what you picked up, which is the most important part.
“We’re using computer vision models to look at that photograph and extract what is the object. What’s it made out of and what is the brand,” says Kirschner.
Chris Woods, a ninth grade math teacher in Michigan, uses the app and sees how much of an impact just one person can have, but when more people come together, the impact multiplies. The simple act of picking up litter can also apply to subjects like math, science, art, and literature. That’s why he gets his students involved in picking up the litter around their school.
Woods says, “We may not live near the ocean, but there’s water, there’s streams, there’s rivers, there’s everything that eventually takes all those things where they make a bigger impact in a negative way.”
When all of his students pick up litter together, they can really see the size of the impact they’re making. Woods says it’s also a good way to get some exercise.
“Not only is it a great app and gets kids thinking about keeping their community clean, and thinking about nature and ecosystem and things like that, but it also is fun, it gets them outside it gets them moving around, gets them active, and it’s another way to encourage family time,” says Woods.
Challenges within the app allow you to get competitive. Kirschner created the Litterati Community Earth Month challenge which aims to pick up 100,000 pieces of litter by April 30. Anyone can join, all you need is the code EARTH2021 to join the other 90+ people already contributing across the world. But the real winner in these challenges is Earth and the communities the app users give back to.
But Kirschner says cities spend billions of dollars on cleanup every year, which is why he is focused on helping cities get to the root of the problem when it comes to litter.
“We work with cities all over the world to do two things. One, help them map out all of the items and the objects that are leaking out into their streets or their boardwalks beaches, etc., so that they can understand the root cause of the problem, and then we do quite a bit of advanced data science on top of that data that’s collected so that they can get to the root cause of the problem. We want to help cities spend a lot smarter, how do they use their very limited resources in a way that can drive a greater return on that investment. The other thing that we offer for cities is what’s called a resident engagement platform. So cities are constantly asking us how do we get our residents to care even more, how do we get them to contribute to a clean, healthy, safe community,” says Kirschner.