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Are We All Litterbugs?

Posted March 08, 2017 10:00 AM by MaggieMc

As someone who frequently weaves out of my path to pick up the tiny scrap of plastic on the sidewalk on the other side of the road, I recently read an article that made my stomach feel queasy. In that article, Bloomberg’s Justin Bachman told the story of the “orbiting junkyard” that floats around the earth.

This orbiting landfill is rarely shown on satellite views of the planets, and it isn’t blocking our view of the stars, but Bachman points out it is “presenting plenty of hassles for satellite operators who do business in orbit.” The debris field has been growing over the last decade. Notably due to a satellite destroyed by a missile test and the collision of one defunct satellite with another owned by Iridium Communications Inc.—consider an estimated 2,500 pieces from the first satellite alone, each of which are traveling at about 18,000 mph. As Bachman explains, “a 1-centimeter-wide aluminum sphere in low-earth orbit packs the kinetic equivalent of a safe moving at 60 mph.” Unsurprisingly, considering those numbers, the debris field in low-earth orbit is quickly becoming a minefield for functioning satellites.

Entrepreneurs are looking to capitalize on “the detritus of unmanned and manned space flight” by tracking the debris, helping satellite operators avoid the pieces of junk. The DoD also maintains a public database that tracks some 20,000 pieces of waste, while the Air Force has contracted Lockheed Martin to develop a “Space Fence” radar system to track as many as 200,000 objects.

This kind of tracking capacity is becoming increasingly necessary as more and more junk is created—enough junk that some worry low-earth orbit could eventually become “commercially dubious.” While this fear—supported by the an idea that was originally presented by retired NASA astrophysicist Donald Kessler in 1978, that each time pieces of junk collide, they break apart to create more junk—is considered by many to be a concern for the distant future, it’s still a distinct possibility.

Perhaps to many of us this kind of litter seems too distant to be a concern, let alone a source of guilt, but it parallels data being gathered by Jeff Kirschner and his band of (Instagram) followers.

Rather than tracking space junk, those with the Litterati app use images and geotags to track litter. Each tag is then integrated into a map that shows where the trash was collected and allows users to ‘tag’ the type of litter. As I’m writing this, Litteroti reports collecting 340,832 pieces of litter.

The moment of Kirschner’s inspiration for the app that began as an Instagram movement was specific; he tells the story in his TED Talk:

“We were hiking in the Oakland woods when my daughter noticed a plastic tub of cat litter in a creek. She looked at me and said, "Daddy? That doesn't go there."

“When she said that, it reminded me of summer camp. On the morning of visiting day, right before they'd let our anxious parents come barreling through the gates, our camp director would say, ‘Quick! Everyone pick up five pieces of litter.’ You get a couple hundred kids each picking up five pieces, and pretty soon, you've got a much cleaner camp. So I thought, why not apply that crowdsourced cleanup model to the entire planet? And that was the inspiration for Litterati.”

After that, Kirschner began taking pictures of the litter he picked up, and the movement progressed from Instagram to its very own app—but not before it helped San Francisco double the litter fee on cigarette sales. As told by the San Francisco Examiner, between 2009 and 2014, cigarettes went from 22% to 53% of recorded litter, so the city increased the tax, making cigarette retailers responsible for collecting it. Then, as Kirschner describes, “they got sued by big tobacco, who claimed that collecting information with pencils and clipboards”—as the survey was done—“was neither precise nor provable.” So, they used Litterati, which Kirschner brags not only helped them defend and double the tax, but was able to tell them if the cigarette was “a Parliament or a Pall Mall” with photographic and geographic proof.

With Jeff Kirschner’s Litterati, tracking made a difference by proving a litter source and, at times, prompting a change from institutions or brands. As he says, the litter ‘fingerprint’ “provides both the source of the problem and the path to the solution.” Hopefully over time, tracking space junk will be able to prompt the same kind of change, since we’re currently just creating a path through the junk without ever removing any of it.

--

Download Litterati at the Apple Store or sign up for a reminder once the Android version is available (you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page).

Image credits to NASA, Litterati, and the contributors to Litterati’s Instagram.

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Guru

Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: South of Minot North Dakota
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#1

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/08/2017 10:42 AM

Pretty cool idea but it's not working as well as I had hoped.

I've geotagged every piece of trash on my place so far but unfortunately for all my tagging work no one has came around to pick it all up yet.

Cripes, If I spend a good 15 - 20 seconds photographing and tagging a piece of trash someone could at least give me the courtesy of spending a few seconds to pick it up after that.

Once again it's just another app that doesn't do anything but take pictures and post them to social media. I still have to do the actual work myself and that not going to happen being I have spend so much time taking photos of trash and geotagging it.

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Guru

Join Date: Apr 2010
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#2

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/08/2017 11:21 AM

I'm sure some of the litter has DNA on it. If it were publicized that the DNA of collected litter were being analyzed and recorded, that might serve as a deterrent. Tracking down litterbugs this way might not be practical, but if enough people believe in it, it might just work.

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Guru
Engineering Fields - Instrumentation Engineering - EE from the the Wilds of Pa.

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#10
In reply to #2

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/09/2017 2:10 PM

So you collect a fast food restaurant cup. What is on there? Definitely DNA from the person who drank from the cup, maybe from another occupant in the car this was tossed from, possibly from the person who, if this didn't come from a serve yourself soda machine ala Taco Bell, filled the cup with soda, although that might be a rather weak source of DNA if any at all shows up, sometimes the person who put it in the take out bag may not be the actual filler of the cup, the person who originally stocked the cups in the cup holder, and we can probably go to the cup factory now and continue with a chain of possible DNA providers. While the ones who didn't actually drink from the cup may not have much of a chance of depositing DNA on the cup, you still need to consider that as a potential problem, especially if fines are to be considered. Then there is the cost of a complete DNA bank for the entire country. This would aid law enforcement, but probably a bit costly to do just for littering, not to mention the difficulty in gathering such a bank, as that infringes on a persons legal rights.

Nice dream - poor plan.

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Guru

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/09/2017 2:38 PM

'that infringes on a persons legal rights'. I think after the speech by Comey, you are pushing your idea a tad far. I was stunned to hear this being made public.

Despicable!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idjYQimfX0s

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Guru

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#13
In reply to #10

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/10/2017 7:53 PM

Yeah, I wasn't actually thinking of implementing it, for the reasons you stated. I just thought the threat might make people think twice before throwing their garbage out the window for other people to clean up.

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Guru

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#3

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/08/2017 11:55 AM

Here are some ideas for cleaning up space junk. It's a really hard problem.

http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-07/cluttered-space

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Engineering Fields - Biomedical Engineering - New Member Fans of Old Computers - TRS-80 - New Member

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#4

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/08/2017 11:33 PM

Don't feel guilty like it is YOUR fault for not doing enough!!

Pretty old leftist trick to make you feel bad about a world situation.

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Guru

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#5

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/08/2017 11:39 PM

Following San Fransisco's lead we should double the tax on:

1. Tire rubber left on roadways.

2. Bread and the crumbs they leave on counters.

3. Birds and the droppings they leave on cars.

4. Soda pop and the excess carbon dioxide expelled when opened.

5. Lint, collected in pockets and dropped on the ground.

7. Shoes and the heel scuff marks left on floors.

8. Milk,eggs,butter and cheese due to the methane gas produced.

9. All meats and vegetables due to exhaust gasses produced from transportation.

10. Restaurant cooked foods and the vapors released into the atmosphere causing global warming.

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Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Old New Member

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/09/2017 4:11 AM

Will you stop giving the politicians ideas!!!

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Commentator

Join Date: Sep 2012
Location: Brecksville, OH, USA
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#8
In reply to #6

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/09/2017 8:47 AM

Suppose we clean up all this junk and dispose of it (where? space?); then what?

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Power-User

Join Date: Jan 2015
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#7
In reply to #5

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/09/2017 6:58 AM

And tax people for food ingested and the exhaust gasses produced?

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Anonymous Poster #1
#9
In reply to #5

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/09/2017 9:46 AM

Totally agree, tax should tripled and air should be taxed too. In fact no one should earn a salary, it should all go to tax. We just don't pay enough taxes these days.

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Guru

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#12

Re: Are We All Litterbugs?

03/09/2017 5:57 PM

Seems you have to be an environmentalist to make really big mess. (and expect someone else to clean it up)

massive environmental cleanup required for DAP already.

Is there a giga trash geotag for such places?

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