Have you heard about Litterati?

Last updated on November 21, 2019.

Photo of a discarded plastic laundry detergent bottle on the ground, by nicholasrobb1989 on Pixabay
Photo of a discarded plastic laundry detergent bottle on the ground, by nicholasrobb1989 on Pixabay

Have you ever been out walking, hiking, biking, or even kayaking and noticed that there was trash here and there, everywhere? Noticed trash lining the streets as you drove to work or school? Seen the debris that just seems to have washed up while walking on the beach or fishing in a river?

What do you do? Do you pick it up?

If so, there’s an app for that. It’s called Litterati.

Litterati logo
Litterati logo

It has become an international movement and crowd sourced effort – people all over the world are contributing to make our landscapes less littered. It’s free and it makes litter clean up fun!

With this app you take a photo of each piece of litter with your smart phone, then pick it up and put it in a bag/dumpster/trash receptacle of your choice. You can get really artistic with your photos too. Litterati features the most interesting or artistic photos on Instragram (@litterati).

The Data

Photos are automatically geotagged, meaning information about where and when the litter was picked up, is recorded. Additionally, you can hashtag each image with the category, object name, type of material, and brand info.

Photo of a discarded Coca-Cola can on the ground, by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash
Photo of a discarded Coca-Cola can on the ground, by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash

That data is loaded into a Google map to help track where litter is ending up, what brands are most common, and the map shows the worldwide efforts to which Litterati’s members are contributing. Check out the map (it does take time to load, please be patient because it’s totally worth the wait!). You can even zoom into your specific area and see the collected trash in your area. I love the map!

The data is also used to understand the habits of litter. Jeff Kirschner, the founder of Litterati, explains in his TED Talk why and how he created the app. He also highlights a couple of grand scale changes that were made to prevent litter because of that collected data. It’s amazing! Watch the Ted Talk!

Join Us!

I joined this effort in March of 2017, and I love the app. I just did a small litter clean up yesterday and picked up 68 pieces of trash. Over the weekend, my family cleaned up on the shore of the Tennessee River – we literally pulled a few pieces out of the water that day. It was really satisfying to know we are making a difference, and teaching our son by example that he can make a difference too. The Litterati motivates and inspires me! I’ve started a Litterati Club and if you’d like to join, download the Litterati app and join the club “Because turtles eat plastic bags” – I look forward to meeting you!

A Growing Effort

In 2017, after Litterati reached 1 million pieces of litter pick ups, they launched a Kickstarter to expand and improve the app. I backed the campaign with 573 others, and that raised enough money to launch the new version of the Litterati app. While it has a few glitches, which they’re working on improving, the new app is awesome! You can join or create clubs; the hashtagging is easier; you can set your account to only upload when on a wifi network; you can view the map; and daily they list the top 5 people with the most activity (I’ve made that list twice and it made my day!)

The count this morning is over 2.1 million and has users in over 100 countries.

And in May 2018, the United Nations announced that they are partnering with Litterati to fight world pollution! Plastic Free Mermaid did a video interview with Jeff Kirschner in June 2018 and he talks about that and other efforts.

While Litterati is using its data and mapping for great changes, the founder is still looking to inspire people. In May 2018, he was quoted on Greenmatters.com: “How do we deliver a wonderful experience for each community member so that they’re inspired to pick up just one more piece, and then one more?” And then spread the word, build community, and inspire others. That’s what I’m trying to do here! Wouldn’t it be cool if picking up trash and keeping our Earth clean became the new normal?

Thank you for reading, and let’s be the change!

A few of my own Litterati photos:

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia

There are inspirational and motivated people all over the world. People who amaze us and withstand the negativity. It is even more inspiring when a woman overcomes the obstacles she faces.

I discovered Isatou Ceesay through my local library. I had requested several children’s books about plastic, and I found One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul. Upon reading this book to my son, I was really impressed with this story. Check to see if your local library offers it!

One Plastic Bag book cover

After reading the book I wanted more information about Isatou Ceesay!

I felt that she is so inspirational that I should dedicate a whole post to her. She has been committed to upcycling plastic bags and reducing waste in The Gambia since the 1990s. The waste problem in The Gambia really bothered her. Plastic and trash were everywhere. The landscape was littered. Some used plastic to make fires burn faster, but the toxins released in the fumes when burning plastic is unimaginable. She decided she would find a way to recycle or upcycle some of the plastic waste.

More than just recycling

But her story is not just about recycling and plastic. It’s also about empowering women and improving the standard of living! The book tells the story at a children’s level about how she had to work in secret in the beginning because people laughed. I read that it was illegal for women to work at the time, and that’s why she worked in secret. In any case, she began making recycled plastic bag purses. Isatou hired a few women to help and hired more as time went on, even establishing a women’s cooperative to craft and sell items for income. The business kept growing and it helped the landscape, the people, and the economy.

Isatou also helped co-found The Gambian Women’s Initiative (GWI) whose mission is: “GWI seeks to help financially poor women in the Gambia increase their income, thereby improving the standard of living for their families and their communities. Projects coordinated and rural women’s groups will give women a voice in their own development, as they are trained in income-generating, investment and decision-making skills.” They also teach financial planning.

Here’s a quick video highlighting her accomplishments:

And if you’d like to watch a full interview with her, or read more about her, climateheroes.org featured her here, entitled “Isatou Ceesay, Queen of Plastic Recycling in The Gambia.” But as you now know, she’s so much more than just a recycler or an upcycler. She’s a visionary and she’s being the change.

DIY Opportunity

And if you have too many plastic bags yourself and want to make plastic bag crocheted purse? She’s got a how-to video! I’ll update this post if I try it. And if any of you try this, please message me or leave a comment below! I can’t wait to see what you’ve done!

The author quoted Isatou on the back of the book: “People thought I was too young and that women couldn’t be leaders. I took these things as challenges; they gave me more power. I didn’t call out the problems – I called out solutions.” Well said. I think we should all have that attitude. Let’s be the change together!

 

This post does not contain any affiliate links.

Bag It: The Movie

Bag It the movie film cover art

Have you seen this documentary? Bag It is an excellent film, and I wholeheartedly recommend it! It’s a great introduction to not only the problem of plastic bags but of plastics in general. Please check out the trailer:

A must-see documentary

I cannot say enough good about this film. It really hits on all the topics, from the perspective of an everyday person like you or me. Before I saw this film myself a couple of years ago, I had only limited knowledge of plastics, recycling, and toxic products. This film was like my gateway to bigger individual topics – like plastic bag usage; the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; toxins in food from plastic packaging; and single-use disposable plastic…everything. I had thought about those things, but I hadn’t researched them or even read much about them. I love this film! And Jeb Berrier is pretty funny too.

The film also introduced me, through interviews in the film, to a variety of plastic experts, ocean and marine life experts, and organizations trying to make the world a better place. To name a few: Beth Terry of myplasticfreelife.com; Annie Leonard of the Story of Stuff Project; Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue; Algalita (founded by Captain Charles Moore); the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge; Oceana; the Environmental Working Group; authors Elizabeth Royte and Daniel Imhoff; and so many more that I’m forgetting to include. The filmmakers’ requests for interviews with the American Chemistry Council and others in the plastics industry were denied or received no response. Unfortunately, that has been fairly typical with films that investigate and educate the public on the plastic problem.

Plastic bags that have somehow made it into my home. I'm saving these for trash clean ups when I go hiking. Photo by me.
Plastic bags that have somehow made it into my home. I’m saving these for trash clean-ups when I go hiking. Photo by me.

So how can you watch it?

Well, I was able to watch this documentary through the public library where I live, so always check with your library first! But I have found it is available on Amazon for purchase or streaming (see link above) if you subscribe to a certain Amazon prime program. You can rent it on iTunes as well! The film is also available on the film’s website for DVD purchase or hosting a screening (more on that in a minute).

plastic bag collection on cart, Photo by Lance Grandahl on Unsplash
Photo by Lance Grandahl on Unsplash

Take action with Bag It The Movie

I was completely inspired by this movie! As I mentioned above, this film is one that led me to other important films, authors, individuals, and organizations that are all making a difference and trying to educate people. I consider Bag It to have been a core part of our household’s path to great changes.

I looked up the film’s website in anticipation of writing this post, and I was even more inspired! Most of their site is dedicated to using the film as a tool to educate schools, communities, and whole towns. They offer the ability for any person or organization to host a screening for a fee and have a free downloadable pdf Screening Tool Kit, which has step by step instructions and resources for screening Bag It. They also have a free downloadable pdf to initiate a Bag It Town campaign, meaning a plastic bag ban.

In my post about a weekend trip to Hilton Head Island, where I discovered that that town is implementing a plastic bag ban this month, I mentioned that I might try to propose one where I live! Between both, I’m SO moved and even more encouraged. If I do propose one in my town, I definitely know where to start now. With the tools provided by Bag It!

Thank you to Reel Thing Productions films, Director Susan Beraza, actor Jeb Berrier, the writers, all participants and interviewees from this film!

And thank you for reading! Stay inspired and be the change!

Plastic Bag Ban map, screenshot taken November 27, 2018. Link found on Bag It! the Movie's website. Map powered by Google.
Plastic Bag Ban map, screenshot taken November 27, 2018. Link found on Bag It! the Movie’s website. Map powered by Google.

 

This post does not contain any affiliate links.

What’s the Big Deal about Plastic Straws?

straws colorful, Photo by Bilderjet on Pixabay
Photo by Bilderjet on Pixabay

There was an article this past Sunday in the Chattanooga Times Free Press about a coalition of aquariums across the United States that are striving to reduce the use of plastic straws. The coalition is called the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) and is a collaboration of 22 public aquariums in 17 states, including the Tennessee Aquarium. They are “committed to advancing conservation of the world’s ocean, lakes, and rivers through consumer engagement, business leadership and policy changes.”

Aquariums are awesome and full of wonder and thousands of children go through them daily. So they are poised to be leaders in positive change, and this is a great example of that! One of the things they’re doing is asking restaurants and others in the hospitality industry to reduce the use of straws by only giving them out upon request, instead of automatically. They’re also asking individuals like you to sign this pledge to stop using plastic straws.

My son in awe at the Tennessee Aquarium when he was just 2 and a half. Photo by me.
My son in awe at the Tennessee Aquarium when he was just 2 and a half. Photo by me.

“Partnership companies have eliminated more than 5 millions straws per year,” the article says. But in the United States alone, we are using 500 million disposable plastic straws per dayThe article refers back to a recent study about microplastic pollution in the Tennessee River, which I’ll write about in a future post. The article also mentioned that the Tennessee Aquarium has switched to recyclable paper straws.

But the article failed to explain why plastic straws are such a problem, and here’s why I think that. They posted a poll through the online version of the newspaper, asking “Do you thinking banning plastic straws is helpful?” The results: Yes 49%, No 51%. I was so SAD to see such results. After all the recent media about disposable plastic straws, people still don’t understand the ramifications of single-use disposable plastic?

Well, I seek to change that and help people understand. Let’s be the change together!

Colored plastic straws sorted by color. Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay
Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay

So what’s wrong with plastic straws?

First, the sheer amount of them! Just like with all single-use disposable plastic products, it’s the over-consumption and the over-dependency we have on them. Think 500 million straws per day. That’s more than one straw per person per day in the United States. Our consumption has gone way overboard and has created a waste stream that is too large for us to keep up with! Second, they are not recyclable at all.

But I’m not here to judge. And I’m not here to shame you. I’m here to encourage you to START TODAY. Politely refuse those plastic straws – if everyone refuses just one straw per day, we’ll more than cut our usage in half! What if 75% of refused them every day? I’m no mathematician, but that’s a lot of waste that just wouldn’t happen.

“Between 170 and 390 million straws are used per day in the United States.” –Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home, Travel, Dining, Holidays, and Beyond 

I threw my disposables into the trash/recycling receptacle like I’m supposed to – isn’t that enough? How is it ending up in the rivers and ocean?

I think one of the critical issues with all the media about single-use disposable plastics is that the biggest question is often not answered: How does the plastic end up in the ocean in the first place?

Most people assume that once they’ve placed their disposables into a receptacle, those disposables go to the proper facility. What people don’t know – and I didn’t either until just a couple of years ago – is that that item may not make it to the recycling facility or landfill. And that’s out of our control, so isn’t it impossible to do anything about it?

No. It’s not impossible by any means. The best way to guarantee that your single-use disposable plastics don’t end up in the ocean is…

To just not use them! Refuse them. Find an alternative. Then you do have control. We have the power to be the change.

So back to the question – how is it ending up in the rivers and ocean?

There are so many causes! Spillage from recycling that has been transported across the ocean for years to Asia; plastic products shipped across the ocean to the U.S. have spilled from ships; the fishing industry; trash and litter that gets blown or washed into water streams such as rivers, that then feed into the ocean; illegal dumping; people leaving trash on beaches, waterways, and from personal watercraft; microbeads washing down drains; and debris from natural disasters and floods. Plastic bags are picked up by the wind and blown into waterways that flow into the ocean.

Single use disposable plastic straw found buried in the sand, Hilton Head Island, October 2018. Photo by me.
Single-use disposable plastic straw found buried in the sand, Hilton Head Island, October 2018. Photo by me.

Have you noticed plastic straws have been in the media lately?

Our family hasn’t used plastic straws since before it was the trend, and I’m happy to see others coming on board. We mostly just don’t use straws but we do carry a reusable stainless steel straw with us for when we need it.

If you Google “plastic straws” you will get an array of news stories either supporting the end of plastic straws or arguing against (since it is only one small part of the greater problem of single-use disposable plastics). If you Google “plastic straws ban” there are even more articles about cities and states that are either implementing or working on a legislative plastic straw ban. I’m not going to summarize either of those searches here because, frankly, it would take me several posts to write such a summary. However, I encourage you to read up on it – after you finish reading my post first, that is. The following meme will make a lot more sense, too.

Forest Gump on straws, I couldn't stop giggling at this, so I'm reposting it here.
I couldn’t stop giggling at this, so I’m reposting it here.

I believe that many of these things cannot be legislated solely, that there must be a drive that is tied to economics. Disclaimer: I am not an economist. But here’s what I think: If consumers are asking businesses they patronize to stop using certain items, such as single-use disposable plastics, the consumer also has the power to not patronize that business. If consumers refuse to spend money at a business because that business does not do or provide what consumers want, then that business will be forced to change if they want to maintain profitability.

Starbucks is one company that is striving to end use of plastic straws by 2020. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash
Starbucks is one company that is striving to end the use of plastic straws by 2020. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Ok, so what steps can I take?

First, let’s support the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. You can do this by signing the pledge: https://pledge.ourhands.org/.

Second, refuse. Just say no thank you. To all single-use disposable plastics. Because recycling is not the answer. Only about 9% of our plastics get recycled. That means 91% is not recycled!

Third, if you must have something commonly produced as a single-use disposable plastic, like a straw, please buy a reusable one. Paper disposables and supposedly biodegradable straws are a better option, but it’s still going to be thrown away after one use. Try one of these (these are affiliate links): stainless steel straw; glass straw; or a bamboo straw.

Fourth, tell others! Tell your friends, your co-workers, your favorite restaurant, the local coffee shop, your local school. So many people to tell!

Fifth, participate in clean-up efforts. Join the Litterati. Maybe you’ll keep some of the trash you pick up from entering the ocean.

Last, stop supporting businesses that just won’t get on board. Go somewhere else.

Final Thoughts

I think that we all, collectively, have the power to create change just by modeling. Now I don’t mean on the runway – think in the psychological sense, or if you’re a parent – you want to model the best behavior. Refuse that straw. Be polite, of course. But just say no. If everyone starts refusing straws, businesses won’t have the need to order as many. Then the plastic straw manufacturers will have to produce less. And then less will end up in the landfill, in nature, and in the oceans. It will be a utopia! Ok, maybe not, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. And let’s all sign the pledge to refuse straws when we go anywhere – to the coffee shop, restaurant, or movie theater.

Be the change! And as always, thanks for reading.

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