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Litterati: tackling trash (globally)

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

While it’s axiomatic to say the best ideas in life are simple, when it comes to Litterati the saying holds true. The smartphone app that encourages users to pick up and track litter has gained increasing traction and it all started with a simple hashtag #--you guessed it: #litterati.

In 2012, Jeff Kirschner, its founder and CEO, started posting pictures on Instagram of the litter he spotted while walking his kids to school. The movement grew organically at first until Kirschner, who founded two start-ups, decided to develop the app. Litterati was born and now has 3 million plus users measuring our trash impact on the planet.

The app is simple to use. Take a picture of something that failed to make it into a trash can and the app immediately marks it with a geo-tag and time stamp. The user can include more details and key words identifying what it is (a plastic bag, a beer can, etc.) and the data is saved in a global database.

To date, nearly 3.7 million items have been recorded, including the most commonly found items (plastic, cigarette butts, paper, cans and bottles) and brands (McDonalds, Redbull, Marlborough, Coke, Antaflu and Heinneken).

Kirschner is of the mindset that if you want to change things, you have to measure them first. One reason Litterati is so effective is because it neutrally documents litter. Kirschner says it’s the difference between telling someone a street is littered with cigarette butts and showing them the evidence. “Data is the truth. It creates transparency. It’s not about being for or against something, it’s about showing reality.”

A case in point: here in the Netherlands, Dirk Groot of Zwerfinator, one of many Dutch Litterati users (at roughly 1.2 million, the Dutch are the app’s top users), tracked Antaflu throat lozenges. According to Litterati’s database, 27,000 of its plastic wrappers have been found flapping around in the Dutch winds. With the help of the Plastic Soup Surfer, Groot approached Pervasco, which manufactures Antaflu, armed with data from Litterati and asking for a solution. The CEO said Antaflu was discussing using a paper alternative.

The very nature of litter makes it a contentious subject, but Kirschner sees it as a shared responsibility. “Can I blame McDonalds if I buy a burger and then throw the wrapper on the ground? No, but McDonald has a shared responsibility creating packaging that’s sustainable. Cities also share that responsibility by creating infrastructure that can handle waste.”

Litterati’s approach is geared towards educating people about litter, collecting data that speaks for itself. Says Kirschner, “We’re not into blaming or pointing fingers. We are into partnerships with committed individuals and organizations who are ready to put their resources, time, and effort into solving this problem.”

It seems that more and more people are becoming alarmed with the colossal amount of garbage and plastic clogging our seas, polluting the environment and threatening our health, as well as animal and plant life on earth. Because the problem is overwhelming, Litterati, just like Trashless Earth, is on the forefront of making change do-able, by letting people know they’re not alone, and their small actions to clean up do make a difference.

“Trashless and Litterati share a common value in that we both empower individuals by connecting them with a broader community of like-minded people,” says Kirschner. “Individually you make a difference. Together we create an impact.”

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