Fight Litter with Your Smartphone
Do you encounter litter in your day-to-day? Have you noticed that those discarded cigarette butts and coffee cups tend to be in the same areas? A new app is looking to compile data on where litter crops up and use it to help cities do something about it.
What if your town could see where litter tends to cluster and use that data to place receptacles for trash, recycling, and cigarettes where they’re needed most? Grrbage – an app for iPhone and Android developed by Morgan Wadsworth to raise awareness about our litter problem and collect data to help fix it.
Morgan was kind enough to answer some questions about Grrbage, his goals with the project, and how we can help. Check it out.
Becky Striepe: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.
Morgan Wadsworth: My name is Morgan Wadsworth, I’m 36 years old, I’m a husband and father to two boys (ages 3 and 5) and I reside in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. My background is Design and Usability Design and my passion is being outside and in our natural world. I’ve always been curious about our environment and what it was capable of. As a kid I would keep every apple seed and orange seed I came across and plant them and the thrill of seeing that seed sprout still excites me today. I spend a lot of time outside kayaking, biking, hiking, playing with my children and exploring the natural world with them. My wife shares a lot of the same interest as I do, so our boys have become little nature dudes. They can name almost every flower, shrub and tree in our area and are lucky enough to raise and release butterflies each year with my wife. My family has been a big part of creating Grrbage and has been incredibly supportive. I think I may have wiped the word ‘garbage’ out of my children’s vocabulary because every bit they see now is “Dad, look at all the Grrbage.” So I’m very proud!
Becky: When did you launch Grrbage, and what inspired you to create this app?
Morgan: I had been kicking the idea of an app around to help combat the garbage issue for close to 2 years. I would get super stoked and sit down and work and then I’d talk myself out of it. My family and friends urged me to do it and so I sat down and designed Grrbage. A lot of late nights went into designing the app and I created a lot of supporting information for the developers that I hired who would develop the app. Grrbage was officially launched about 3 weeks ago, and I’m still up late most nights.
The inspiration for this app goes back to my love of being outside and connected to nature and the desire to pass that same love and respect for the environment on to my children. Both of whom I can happily report will be the kids that catch a spider and set it free as opposed to squishing it.
Being outside a lot and trying to enjoy my time with my family or friends was getting tougher and tougher to do because I was being distracted by the garbage being left around. For some reason I take it personally when I see that someone carelessly littered. I do believe and really want to believe that it’s a small fraction of the population that chooses to throw their garbage wherever they please, but it only takes one person to make a natural wonder look abused.
Shortly before my app launched, my wife and I had packed up our kayaks and some fishing rods and the boys and we were headed to one of our favourite beaches to launch our kayaks and do some fishing. We were all stoked because it had been a while since we’d been out there. It’s a remote beach, not well known in a valley near our city. My heart sank as we rolled up to “our” beach and I lost the good vibe that I had the whole way out. The beach was trashed (see attached photos). I was so shocked it was crazy. I couldn’t even think of paddling or fishing. I got one boat ready for my wife to use and set the kids up with their fishing rods and began tidying the beach. My wife and kids helped until I told them to enjoy some time and I continued to clean. I was seeing everything. Broken fishing tackle, empty BBQ sauce bottles, diapers, aluminum cans, glass, candy wrappers, coffee cups, fast food containers and packaging, burnt lawn furniture…it was terrible. I cleaned for over two hours and as I did cars began to pull up, first a van with two people. I watched as they unpacked plastic bags filled with the products that I had been cleaning up and as they began to set up their fishing rods. I walked into their beach (trying to remain calm) and asked if they fished here often to which they replied “All the time!” quite proudly. I held the bag of garbage that I had been filling at the time open and told them that anything they pack in needs to be packed out as well. They were a bit shocked and said they would. As I continued two more vehicles came out full of people all bringing the same product out. I had the same conversation with them and they all agreed. I finished cleaning up a major portion of the beach and we packed up and left. I’m happy to report that a month later the beach was almost as clean as I had left it. Sometimes a conversation is needed!
More inspiration came many years ago while paddling on a local lake when I rescued a seagull that was floating on the surface with a plastic bagged wrapped around it.
My childhood inspires me, my children inspire me, my wife inspires me and the challenge to cause change in people that might need a “conversation” inspires me.
Becky: Are you guys working with #litterati?
Morgan: I’ve designed Grrbage to allow people and groups to continue to support the movements they are passionate about. Litterati, Litter Free Planet, Clean Britain and one of the biggest movements out there is The Great Canadian Shoreline CleanUp which last year rallied people together to remove 136,000 kgs of garbage from Canadian shorelines and waterways and have been at it for 20 years. Each of these groups are using social networks to promote and drive their cause forward. The data that we can get from these social networks is pretty decent but can be improved by using an app with the built in context of garbage.
Related Reading: Litterati: Fighting Litter with Instagram
That’s why I’m confident Grrbage will help. People and groups can use Grrbage to post the garbage and trash they find. The app will capture the location the garbage was found, the date and have the context of who captured it, which isn’t unlike the other social networks.
Where Grrbage really shines is in it’s ability to tag each post with the type and/or the brand represented in the garbage, this can get very specific. The user can provide comments about what they’ve found and include hashtags, which is where the power to support a specific cause comes in. The user can then choose to share that post with Twitter and Facebook which promotes the cause they care deeply about and helps raise awareness. So many social good organizations can be supported with this one app providing the right context. Users will be able to share to Instagram shortly.
Grrbage is also very social, your followers in the app will see your post and they can share that post to their followers. Other people can then comment on your post and add additional tags if they choose to. Your list of followers will grow as your activity grows. The app will also notify you when someone tags, shares or adds a comment on your post.
To promote discovery in the app people can tap on a username view that persons profile which will display the number of followers they have, how many people they are following, their bio, a URL (Ex. www.litterati.org) and a listing of all of their posts and any posts they’ve shared. You can also tap on a specific tag or hashtag which will reveal a list of posts sharing the same tags and hashtags. So, the user is able to obtain data on the fly and discover what has been found and where.
The data we are collecting is specific to garbage in our environment and will be made available to city planners, park planners, product designers, research teams and to Brands that wish to sponsor the app as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility strategy.
Aside from cleaning up Earth [and maybe even space] we’d like to create positive change. We want people to stop leaving their garbage everywhere and to find the respect they should have for our planet. Our data can be used to design knowledge material that can help to design products or services to inform others and change behaviors.
The other change we’d like to see happen is in regards to the misunderstanding people have about the brands that are being represented in the garbage we’re collecting and cleaning up. These brands don’t want this to happen and they aren’t purposely putting it there. It’s the consumer that chooses to the leave a particular product behind in a parking lot, on a trail, in the park or at a bus stop. Many brands are working to offset that with Community Investment activities and funding to help clean up or reduce the garbage. Brands can use Grrbage right now to reach out to an audience that is specifically cleaning up their product that their customers left behind. It’s the perfect platform for brands to acknowledge those people with a “thank you” or the occasional reward. This is a very powerful bridge being built between brands and the people that might be negatively impacted by seeing their product in the environment.
Becky: What’s the most common bit of litter that you see showing up on the app?
Morgan: Of the data we’ve collected so far it’s all about coffee, from the cups to the sleeves to the lids. Not far behind is fast food packaging and I believe beverage containers and cigarette butts and packaging are being reported at a similar rate. There is a lot of miscellaneous material paper, plastic, fabric, metal, electronic bits, etc…
Related Reading: 10 Surprising Coffee Facts
Aside from knowing what the most popular garbage item is we will also be providing information through the form of blog posts and documents that urban planners can use to help prevent the build of garbage in their area.
Becky: I see that you have specific goals that you’re trying to meet. How can new users help the project out the most?
Morgan: Being active and being seen is the best thing anyone can do. I had one Grrbage user comment in her post that she was getting funny looks from people while she photographed a coffee cup left behind at a departure gate in an airport. I get those looks all the time, but the act of being seen studying a piece of garbage, photographing it and taking the time to pick it up and put it where it belongs is another viral way to help our planet. I think there is some weird stigma about picking up garbage in public and I’d like that to change. I mentioned in a radio interview the other day that I would like it to become normal to not walk past garbage instead of how easy it seems to be for people to ignore it as they roll through their day.
But yes, use the app, support your local movements, support the global movements and lets start creating data that can truly help us tackle the specific issue of garbage on Earth. Garbage is everywhere and it doesn’t have to be.
Disclosure: I discovered Grrbage when they followed me on Instagram. I haven’t been compensated in any way for this write-up. I just think it’s a really cool app that you might think is cool, too!
photos courtesy of Morgan Wadsworth