Nature and technology. How mobile app, AI and crowdsourcing might solve the problem of littering?

in ecoTrain2 years ago

I used to see technology development as a force correlated with nature degradation. The more we merge with technology, the more we are disconnected from the nature. It's easy to fall for the traps of shining screens. It's also easy to fall for the trap of solutionism. Personally, I don't believe in the fairy tale of technology tackling all problems of cancer-like growing civilization. Most general issues are beyond left-brain problem solving modality of thinking, explored by scientists and technologists. Not talking about the fact that what could be solved by technology, very seldom turn out to be profitable for any singular entity.

However, sometimes the situation is kind of opposite. With growth of digital networks, communication technologies and big data processing new ways of dealing with problems are unfolding. Global cooperation on the large scale became possible, and social networks might be so much more than vanity fuelling echo chambers. The key to success is the network effect.


One of the most interesting apps in my opinion is Litterati, crowdsourced, global litter picking database. Every smartphone user with Internet connection can pick trash in his/her neighbourhood, take a picture, tag it and upload to the database. Tagging system is aided by the narrow artificial intelligence trained to recognize the most popular kinds of litter.

App is very intuitive and easy to use, and trash collecting might be fun. Within the app you can view your entries on the map and check statistics and leader boards. I'm using the app for 4 years straight, and I was able to gather above 7000 pieces of litter during this time. I'm glad to see app is being developed and user base is constantly growing.


All the data on the website is free to browse for everybody. Usage of this data is limited only by human imagination. One of the litter pickers from the Netherlands petitioned popular candy producing company to replace plastic wrapper with more eco-friendly packaging. This request was supported with more than 10000 litter entries from the database and media campaign. Producer committed to introduce paper wrappers. This is just a small step, but having very accurate data about litter might be strong asset in hands of agents of change and activists.

But this is just a first step on the way to use big data as a tool to with environmental issues. Can you imagine an army of solar-powered trash picking robots traversing our forests and beaches? All artificial intelligence needs to learn is a big enough dataset, this base is currently being built with the efforts of thousands of people worldwide. With the sufficient funding and engaged developers I can see this coming into the reality within the next 10 years.


And even in this exotic place clear advantaged of better networked regions is visible. Countries with most users like the USA or the Netherlands enjoy an easier tagging system recognizing more regional brands of products.

Littering in nature is a big environmental issue in Poland, where I currently live. Environmental movements are relatively new, and most of the households produce unsorted trash stream. It's no surprising it's very common to see illegal dump sites in the nature. The issue is serious. Here is the screenshot from another app, called TrashOut, which aims to locate illegal dump sites. Each entry here represents the whole trash pile of various sizes. And there are many more unreported.

And here are some pictures I took myself while exploring the nature in my neighbourhood.








By now this is the best we can do, but it's possible with the time and development of technology our small steps might sum up to a big global impact. Synergy!

Anyway, love it, hate it, argue with it, just drop your thoughts!


Excellent App
Then cleanplanet users could complete their action !!!
I like that !