An Overview Of Our Solution
Global waterways are the lifeblood of our planet and litter is an existential threat to their health and functionality. That is why the global litter intelligence company Litterati is on a mission to eradicate litter worldwide by empowering communities with technology and geospatial data science to uncover patterns and insights that lead to understanding the root cause of the problem. For example, our data has indicated the need for improving infrastructure (link), creating more sustainable packaging (link) and influencing regulation (link).Our Global Litter Database can be analyzed worldwide or locally to empower governments, NGO’s, corporations and everyday people.
Our tools serve the requirements of the USEPA’s MS4 Stormwater Permit to help municipalities enhance public education, public outreach and long term planning of waterways management.
- Population Impacted 50,000,000
- Continent: North America
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight by 2050. According to the Rochester Institute of Technology, an estimated 22 million pounds of plastic are entering the Great Lakes each year.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems, as part of the federally mandated MS4 Permit, is one of the only federal programs in existence that holds US municipalities accountable for the amount of litter and waste entering our public waterways. With tens of thousands of US municipalities responsible for adhering to the MS4 permit, Litterati has an incredible opportunity to bolster these activities and ensure these municipalities are maintaining compliance and reversing the trends of waterway pollution.
Since our founding in 2014, the Litterati community has grown to over 200,000 members in 165 countries, who have picked up and analyzed ~9 million pieces of litter.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt
Litterati empowers people to "crowdsource-clean" the planet. Our mobile application is free to download and allows anyone to be part of the solution. By simply taking a picture of litter, our technology employs geo-spatial and machine learning technology to automatically:
- Identify the brand, material, and object
- Map the location and time stamp of when litter was collected
- Measure the individual’s positive impact
The resulting data is displayed in an easy-to-understand format on a user’s dashboard, creating transparency and insight while incentivizing civic engagement. We then offer advanced platform service to empower organizations (nonprofits, corporations, governments) to create an ecosystem of Litterati members to collect data that all flows to the organization’s dashboard. People and organizations around the world leverage our platform to inform government policy, influence product packaging, and inspire us all to be better stewards of our planet and waterways.
Describe your behavioral intervention.
Litterati’s premise is that data frames the problem, which then informs possible solutions. Our data collection is people-powered, so we trigger intrinsic motivation to contribute by connecting individuals to the ripple effects of litter on their health, communities, waterways, and wildlife. Litter maps, tags, and data visualizations are digestible illustrations of the scale and content of litter in the built environment and scenic spaces.
The Litterati app uses gamification, feedback loops, and distributed community building to boost engagement and grassroots solution development. Litterati’s data and photo capabilities empower active users as well as corporate, government and non-profit organizations to highlight individual achievements and link these contributions to large scale impacts. In addition to organization-led changes, citizens around the world have successfully used Litterati data to lobby for package manufacturing changes that can benefit communities and waterways.
Behavioral Levers Utilized
As needed, please explain how you utilized the lever(s) in more detail.
Litterati’s MAP and REP promote behavior change at two touch points: data collection and reporting. The app records data on litter, waste infrastructure (presence and placement of disposal equipment – CA), and litter hotspots (amount and age indicates degree of care for a space by others – SP), which are strong influencers of waste disposal and littering behavior.
Reports influence community disposal behavior impacting waterways by recommending changes to the environmental context (accessibility of waste bins, maintenance of storm drains/outfalls, awareness of disposal options for paint, etc. - CA); waterway signage (salience, drainage destination, explicit dumping avoidance request - RR, I); other signage (fines, littering/dumping reporting options, or impacts on waterway/wildlife - EA, I, RR); and evidence of misuse (stolen sewer covers, illegal dumping, and drainage malfunctions are signals that abuse is acceptable – SP).
Describe your implementation
Litterati’s Resident Engagement Platform (REP) and Municipal Assessment Program (MAP) enhance NGO, corporate and government responses to litter. The REP is used to build a municipality’s ecosystem of volunteers and advocates to go beyond constantly cleaning up highly littered areas. Our data collection tools and dashboard analytics allow people and governments to more deeply understand the litter composition in their waterways and streets. This deeper understanding is then used to develop strategies to prevent this litter from happening in the first place. As better programs and policies are developed, our MAP can be used by municipal operations to further identify litter hotspots, test new strategies and evaluate their impact.
By using REP and MAP on the city and state level, Litterati optimizes existing litter outreach and education programs as well as existing assessment programs. Many of these programs suffer from a lack of goal setting and/or quantifiable metrics. For example, a city will invest heavily in bus shelter ads that tell people not to litter with no real analysis on how many people these ads actually reach or what action they inspired people to take. Additionally, cities can’t fully account for how much money they spend cleaning up litter because a majority of these actions are reactive, which is much harder to track. According to a Pennsylvania study of litter response in 9 cities, on average 85% of litter responses were reactive. The MAP allows municipalities to have a quantifiable dataset to identify litter reduction strategies and then to measure those strategies to see if they worked.
The MS4 permit requires municipalities to conduct public outreach, public education and assessment of long term planning goals in regards to litter. Litterati is a major resource and tool for cities to meet those goals and is continuing to refine our platform and adapt our dashboard to serve the reporting requirements for the MS4 permit to make a greater impact.
Describe the leadership for your solution. Who is leading the implementation?
The development of the REP and MAP as well as the integration of the MS4 permit requirements to enhance the protection of waterways is being led by the Litterati Cities Team. Our Head of Cities is Nic Esposito who formerly served as the City of Philadelphia’s Zero Waste and Litter Director. Nic worked in government for a total of 10 years and has extensive experience working with municipal water departments.
Alina Bekkerman is the Litterati City Success Manager. Alina has a background in marketing, technology and has served as the National Sustainability Manager for a major US corporation. Alina also has extensive experience as a zero waste consultant.
This work is also supported by Dr. Natalie Hallinger who oversees the Litterati Behavioral Science Team. She has a PhD in applied social psychology from Loyola University and previously led the behavior change initiatives within Cook County Health’s Center for Health Equity and Innovation.
Share some of the key partners or stakeholders engaged in your solution development and implementation.
Litterati believes that we will never solve the litter problem by working in silos. We believe that governments, corporate brands, nonprofits and everyday people need to work together to take collective action and hold each other accountable to make change.
A tangible example of Litterati’s ideology is found in the work that Litterati has done with cigarette butt littering. According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts are one of the most highly littered objects on the planet. So keeping Cigarette butts off of streets will also keep cigarette butts out of our waterways. Litterati worked with the City of San Francisco to help defend a Cigarette Butt Mitigation Tax that the City levied on packs of cigarettes. Over a 5 day period, Litterati engaged researchers through its MAP program to collect geo-located data across 35 locations across the city identifying over 5,000 pieces of cigarette butt litter. This data was so compelling that the tax was successfully defended in court. Fast forward 3 years, the large tobacco firm Phillip Morris International has now engaged with Litterati to assess cigarette butt littering in cities across the world so that Phillip Morris could better understand the impact of this litter and take corporate action as part of a 5 year program to reduce the impact of littering of their products by 50% by 2025 (link).
This is just one example of how Litterati seeks to build an ecosystem of partnerships to stop litter at its source.
Who adopted the desired behavior(s) and to what degree? Include an explanation of how you measured a change in behavior.
Litterati is currently working with the City of Lodi, California and their Watershed Program to engage schools and volunteer groups across the City to conduct clean ups. Lodi has used the Litterati app to engage these partners in meaningful ways to empower them to clean up their communities and connect the clean ups back to waterways. The Covid19 pandemic has also made it impossible for municipalities to organize large scale clean ups. However, Litterati’s technology empowers the Lodi Watershed Program Coordinator to engage volunteers and still collect data. The enhanced organization of this data through the Litterati dashboard will also optimize the Watershed Program Coordinator to collect the necessary outreach data for the MS4 Permit Public Outreach and Education requirements. The analysis of this data will allow the Coordinator to better understand what types of litter are affecting their waterways and to take more targeted action to prevent these materials from entering waterways.
How did you impact water pollution? Please be specific and include measurement methodology where relevant.
Since Litterati started, we have engaged over 200,000 users on our platform to collect and analyze almost 9 million pieces of litter throughout the world. Although many organizations keep track of their clean up numbers such as volunteer hours and bags of trash collected, we have concrete proof of the amount of litter we have kept off streets and ultimately out of waterways. However, the impact policies of our work create the greater long term impact. In Vienna, we picked up and analyzed over 40,000 pieces of litter and used this data to offer solutions that led to a 17% drop in cigarette butts littering in district 7 of the city. This is the quantifiable action that Litterati is able to accomplish.
How has your solution impacted equity challenges (including race, gender, ethnicity, social class/income, or others)?
It is important that anyone is able to use the Litterati APP to collect data. The Litterati mobile application is a free download for both iOS and Android. Any individual receives unlimited data for life. Although the smartphone is one of the most ubiquitously adopted pieces of technology ever adopted world-wide, we understand that not every person can afford the newest model smartphone. So we provide support for older model devices, ensuring that as many people have the ability to contribute as possible. Furthermore, our application is available for tablets, which in the case of classrooms, is often the teacher’s device of choice. We also understand that not every person can afford unlimited data plans, so after a picture is taken using our app, the picture can be uploaded at a later time when that individual is able to access wifi. The Litterati App is also available in twelve languages to ensure as much worldwide adoption as possible. We continue to add languages as need arises.
What were some social and/or community co-benefits?
The power of the Litterati app is that it gives everyday users the insights and agency to make sustainable and impactful change in their communities to go beyond just cleaning up litter, but to develop a deeper understanding of how litter happens in the first place. And in this time of Covid19, Litterati also allows all users to make these deep and meaningful connections virtually, which we believe will last beyond the pandemic to allow people to take action everyday to clean waterways.
What were some environmental co-benefits?
We are never going to fully address world-wide litter by just cleaning it up over and over. We need to stop litter from entering our streets and waterways to begin with. By taking this proactive approach, we can save municipal government lots of time and money that is better spent managing stormwater and at the same time, put an end to the millions of pieces of plastic that enter our world-wide waterways every year.
What were some sustainable development co-benefits?
Reactive responses to litter are not sustainable. However, most governments are just reacting to litter. This reactive work is hard to measure, track and sustain and it detracts from meeting other needs such as public safety and access to resources like clean water. By putting the power of technology and data in people’s hands, Litterati also helps with sustainable development goals of increased technological literacy and access that are also critical to ensuring access to clean water.
Sustainability: Describe the economic sustainability of your solution.
The MS4 permit requires US municipalities to use tools to track the return-on-investment of their long term planning goals. It’s a frustrating reality that large bureaucracies can succumb to continually funding programs that don’t match the impact of the investment. Litterati allows for a city to take a baseline assessment of their litter response activities to calculate the quantity and prevalence of litter. Once we have that baseline and implement strategies to evaluate if that strategy is leading to less litter, thus allowing a municipality to calculate a return on investment of that strategy.
Return on investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?
A Watershed Stewardship Department usually has to dedicate an entry level full time position totalling an average salary of $35,000 to collect and input data on cleanups. A Litterati REP is only $6,000 and can do all of those functions of that full time position, thus allowing a Watershed Stewardship Department to better spend five times that initial investment elsewhere. Cities also spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising campaigns. But with REP’s engaging on average hundreds of people who then become anti-littering ambassadors, this investment of $6,000 has even more value and is much more cost effective than those advertising budgets.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?
Litterati has an incredible opportunity to build off of the learning we have gained from adapting our product to the needs of the US MS4 permit as well as our widespread adoption in countries in both the global north and global south to better equip municipalities world-wide to enhance their public education, outreach and evaluation of long-term goals when it comes to addressing litter in waterways.
To continue to build out our technology to meet the MS4 reporting requirement needs of municipalities, Litterati will need an estimated $50,000 in developer time and staff time to build out a portal that will allow municipalities to collect data in uniformed ways that will allow for much easier data entry into existing MS4 report structures. This funding will also allow us to increase researcher stipends that will allow us to conduct more waterway litter research and evaluation in cities that require an MS4 permit as well as cities world-wide that do not.