Citizen science – the involvement of the public in scientific research – is a cost-effective way to gather data over a large geographical area, while simultaneously raising public awareness of the environmental impacts of plastic waste.
TARGET USERS: Individuals, Government
KEY CONSIDERATIONS: Ordinary citizens can tackle complex challenges by conducting research on large geographic scales over long periods of time in ways that professional scientists working alone cannot.
MORE INFORMATION: See https://www.citizenscience.gov/assets/FedCCS.pdf, the European Commission’s White Paper on Citizen Science in Europe, and the UK-EOF funded project “Understanding Citizen Science & Environmental Monitoring”
Plastic pollution is a global problem, but gathering sufficient data for scientific research that could enable solutions on the issue is challenging and can often get political. Lack of data hinders the development of waste management strategies and investments in infrastructure, leading to insufficient or absent waste management services.
By taking advantage of public interest on the issue of plastic in the natural environment, citizen science programs incorporate members of the public to provide valuable repeated sampling of plastic debris over wide geographic regions for long periods of time. Leveraging the efficacy of collaboration, citizen science has the power to gather data and help people understand issues that might not be achieved through traditional research methods by scientists alone.
In a citizen science project, anyone can participate, but participants must use the same protocol so data can be combined and of high quality. According to the US Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science, there are five steps to creating a citizen science project:
- Scope your problem
- Design a project
- Build a community
- Manage your data
- Sustain and improve
Some citizen science projects involve beach monitoring whereby citizens are assembled to comb beaches and remove plastic waste, which can then be analysed by researchers. Others take place in the digital world, using a wide range of approaches and include smartphone apps like Litterati, which enables citizens to contribute photographs of plastic debris on beaches or in the ocean, providing valuable information about date, time, packaging and extent of plastic pollution.
Data accumulated by a respective citizen science community becomes publicly available and aims to generate valuable scientific conclusions.
Coupling activism with citizen science is a powerful way to stimulate a greater appreciation for the role science plays in helping solve the global plastic waste crisis.
See Youth Led Initiatives.
CASE STUDY EXAMPLES
Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Project
Over 11.5 million people have participated in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup project since it was founded in 1986. In addition to removing 100 million kilograms of debris from coasts around the world, the project has generated data that has been used in 85 reports and papers.
Citizen Science in Germany
Citizen science has been practiced successfully in nature conservation projects in Germany. The long-term development of individual species populations and ecosystems are monitored to find out what effect environmental changes have on habitats. These insights lead to recommendations for the protection and care of species, which then lead the development of concrete policy measures and care programs implemented by nature reserves, conservation authorities and landscape management groups.
See “Citizen Science for All: a guide for citizen science practitioners” for more information.
The Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (FedCCS)
United States Federal agencies have used citizen science and crowdsourcing for over a century. The Federal Catalog of Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science lists over 420 federally supported projects in areas ranging from biodiversity to computer science, to health and medicine, and even disaster response. Support for these projects is underpinned by legislation including the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act (2016). Case studies from the FedCCS can be found at: https://www.citizenscience.gov/toolkit/case-study/
The Litterati app automatically geo-tags images of litter sent-in by users and recommends tags for what kind of litter it is.
Litterati is an app that empowers people to not just clean the planet, but to also contribute to their crowd-sourced Litter Database that is keeping track of the different types of litter that are found in specific locations at specific times. Litterati uses LitterAi (Image recognition) to extract the type of Object, Material and Brand (when possible) from each image and then derives patterns and insights to assist in finding solutions and support decisions with data.
Litterati’s Global Litter Database has been used to inform government policy, influence changes to more eco-friendly packaging, and inspire greater personal responsibility amongst fellow citizens. The Litterati community has grown to over 160,000 people across 165 countries.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS: Litterati members all over the world have been able to use “LitterData” to get companies, organizations, and governments to create positive environmental policy changes.
MORE INFORMATION: https://www.litterati.org/
While it is clearly evident that plastic is leaking into nature at an alarming rate as can be seen all around the world – we see it in virtually every ecosystem, in our waterways, our oceans, our beaches and beyond. What is not clear, is how much plastic is actually leaking into nature, where it is coming from and where are the hotspots. Without clear data on plastic litter pathways, it is extremely difficult to develop and implement solutions that are effective at curbing plastic pollution.
Litterati is on a mission to eradicate litter. Their technology empowers people to not just clean the planet, but to also contribute to the crowd-sourced Litter Database that is keeping track of the different types of litter that are found in specific locations at specific times. Litterati uses LitterAi (Image recognition) to extract the type of Object, Material and Brand (when possible) from each image and then derives patterns and insights to assist in finding solutions and support decisions with data.
Litterati’s Global Litter Database has been used to inform government policy, influence changes to more eco-friendly packaging, and inspire greater personal responsibility amongst fellow citizens.
Here’s how it works:
1. Install the app.
The Litterati app can be installed on a smart phone device from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
2. Photograph a piece of litter.
Find a discarded coffee cup, crushed soda can, candy wrapper, or any other piece of litter and take a picture. Learn More.
3. Discard Properly & Tag the Photo.
The app automatically geo-tags the image and the LitterAI tool recommends tags to identify the type of litter. Confirm the tags to help the LitterAI keep learning.
4. Invite or Challenge Others.
Want to collaborate (or compete) with others to help keep your street, neighborhood, school grounds, or city clean? Litterati can help you team up! Learn More.
5. Use LitterData to Inspire Change.
Litterati members all over the world have been able to use LitterData to get companies, organizations, and governments to create positive environmental policy changes.
Litter data has long been collected by Governments, NGO’s and citizen volunteers to inform and advise policy makers. However, the traditional data collection methods include manual litter counting and later manual data entry into databases. Litterati’s novel approach uses imagery and mapping software to automate and visualize the data collection process.
CASE STUDY EXAMPLES
See case study examples here.