Monday, July 29, 2013

Tagging Litter - Part 2

Do you litterati?
I recently learned about a project leveraging the popularity and power of Instagram called #litterati.  The purpose? Engaging people in the un-glamorous activity of litter clean-up by digitally capturing, tagging, and sharing what they find with artsy photos. I've become a fan with the handle litterang (yeah, the logo's a take on the Nerf Boomerang - get it - litter + boomerang = litterang, because there is no "away"? Thought so.) and can only see good things coming from it.

Take a look at this video from the Litterati founder about what it is and what they're seeking to accomplish.  The piece that spoke to me was his comments about walking around with his two-year-old and wondering about how to make the world a better place for her.  I now have a two-year-old, and find myself pondering the same question.  The action he's's...shall I say...inspiring.

So, the idea, in a nutshell, is that people take photos of litter, glamming them up with the cool features of Instagram, and tag them by what the item is along with as much brand and company identifying information as possible.  The bonus is sharing them with their followers in the social media universe connected to their Instagram account.  For example, here's a photo I took last weekend and posted (before I opened the litterang acount):

The text reads #litterati #polandspring #plastic #water #bottle which, assuming I have a clue about the coding that goes into this, flows through to the Digital Landfill and Impact Map on Litterati's site:

Maybe I'm a super-geek (no - it's not a maybe), but I think this is way cool.  Why?
  1. Map litter.  Bring the power of location tagging to gather information on hotspots of litter - helping cities and towns plan their garbage collection and recycling placements
  2. Product Stewardship. Bring brands and their owners into the conversation about what happens to the packaging their products come in.  Packaging is the delivery mechanism for the consumer (you want a bottle of water for the water, not the bottle right?) and producer - oh - and a marketing tool as well.
  3. Build a "cool" factor for tagging litter.  Maybe this is a stretch, but if all your friends are #humblebragging about the litter they're tagging because they're such "good people", you might want to as well - think endorsements on LinkedIn
  4. Energy analysis.  If you could tie embodied energy for the items listed, you might generate interesting data that would be useful to conscious consumers, policy wonks, and energy-minded folks.
  5. Brand reconnaissance.  Brands and their owners could start to see patterns of use - where their products are used and end up.  It might help them understand their customers' habits, where they might place another outlet, perhaps engage with their customers to encourage recycling and proper disposal to strengthen brand loyalty and identification?
Is there a danger that this could make litter "sexy", that people would stage their litter photos to make themselves look good and to earn more hearts?  Wow.  That would be lame, and sure, there is always that possibility - but jeez...super lame.

What about people that are not interested in sharing location data associated with their photography?  This is something I have to say that I struggle with.  I am new to Instagram, and the only activity I am using it for at this moment is #litterati - that is my choice.  For others, it may not be so easy, or desired. 

What else could we learn from this? If you don't have an Instagram account, does some social good activity like this make you want to open one?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tagging Litter - Part 1

I started writing this back in March of 2011, building upon a few thoughts I captured in a 2009 post I wrote about picking up litter in a nearby park.

At the time, we were entering the spring, the time of natural (and perhaps spiritual) renewal.  I found myself increasingly annoyed with litter, to the point of finally doing something more than picking up what I could.  The seasonal revelation of what's been cast aside carelessly in public spaces over the past winter as the snow melts was becoming too much to handle.

This is what I was thinking back then...

Over the past few months I've thought about a project to leverage the power of social media to encourage "cleaning up" and also to help us hold the brands that we all use accountable for their products throughout their lifecycles.

The Social Media Litter Project (it did not go...anywhere)

So far, there are two components of this project, twitter and Facebook. I figured that with the number of people on Facebook combined with the microblogosphere of twitter and the geo-location/image capability of mobile devices, we might have something interesting to work on together.

By connecting with old and new friends on Facebook and twitter along with the immense growth of mobile technology adoption, I've become aware of the potential for mobile technology to help us track litter to determine where it came from and how we might prevent it from becoming litter in the first place. When I see people dabbling in Farmville and MafiaWars (are these still relevant?) , I think to myself, is there something as fun and habit forming that makes a difference in our world - that serves a higher purpose - that we could do together?

So, I created a twitter handle @litterproject and started taking photos of litter I've collected in various places and posting it with geo-location enabled. I've been posting using the @litterproject account, and would like to get people to post to @litterproject to participate in this "litter tracking" adventure and see what we can accomplish. Here's a sample post:
@litterproject #mcdonalds in the mix always @dunkindonuts some #polandspring
various #styrofoam & #plastic
With the help of friends from BGI (as well as anyone else that might be interested) we'll create a continuously updated map of the litter people pick up, and thanks to photos and what people post, we'll also know what brands are getting left for others to pick up.

In my brief experience around the Beaver Brook Reservation on the border of Waltham and Belmont I've noticed a high level of Dunkin' Donuts paraphrenalia. I've started a special collection of items with the Dunkin' Donuts logo on it (2013 update - it's since been sent to a landfill). They have a store located in Waverley Square not far from where I live. For those of you in the Northeast, you know what I'm talking about. Seems that there is an inordinate amount of litter around this area comprised of DandD stuff. What I'm curious about is how we as a culture assign responsibility for the "disposal" of something at the end of its useful life - is it the user's or the producer's?  Maybe a bit of both?

What if we created a map with brand identifying characteristics to make people aware of just how much "stuff" is out there and to start bringing in the providers of said "stuff" into the conversation so we might prevent the "stuff" from getting there in the first place.

I'm curious to find out what will emerge from this effort (2013 update - for me, not much). Perhaps the folks at Terracycle or Save that Stuff will note this little experiment and have an idea about extending the useful life of the products recorded here or some other ideas about what to do with them that do not add to our injection of post consumer waste in to the biosphere.

In Part 2, jumping ahead to the present day, there is inspired action by Litterati

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Fixing it Yourself Matters

Confronted by Rust
What does spending 3 hours on a hot afternoon contorted under a 1997 Toyota Camry with 215,000 miles on the odometer do for you?

Here's what it did for me:
  1. Engaged my problem solving muscles
  2. Two words - Neural Plasticity
  3. Saved money
  4. Kept a depreciating (-ed) asset on the road
  5. Helped me be "sustainable"
1. Problem solving - Practice, practice, practice.  If you're not using a skill, it's probably atrophying (or, completely atrophied), so, with that in mind, I decided to figure out how to do it.  No lift? No problem.  Hydraulic jack, sawzall, exhaust clamps, aluminum wire, tiger patches, lengths of pipe - it took multiple weeks, the borrowing of tools and various implements of destruction from multiple family members and driving to too many places - and I figured it out.  

2. Neural Plasticity - the concept idea that we can continually alter our brain, essentially rewiring it to increase its health and our intelligence.  One of the ways to do this is to do things the hard way - I learned by reading a Scientific American blog post I found through @AndreaKuszewski.  I was happy to see that the little things I try and "fix" on a day-to-day basis (waxing my own shoelaces, making a funnel out of a soda bottle, trying to figure out the best way to alter a container to make a drip irrigation system for a container that I'm growing tomatoes in) are not merely obsessions, but activities that might make me a bit smarter (or waste way too much time).

3. Saved money - Depending upon how you value your time...  In this case, the intermediate pipe that this portion of the exhaust's noise cancellation system is part of cost north of $300.  Add installation, and the hours I spent associated with point #1 was worth it...well, the sense of accomplishment at least.  

4. Kept a depreciating (-ed) asset contributing - I'll probably never buy a brand new car (unless something drastic changes about me and or my life), and, I don't view a car as much of an asset, it's more of a mode of transportation that makes our life a little more convenient at the moment, despite the costs associated with it.  The point?  This is a way to get us around in some semblance of comfort - as part of our net worth, it's a piddling contributor (if I really crunched the numbers, possibly a liability) so let's leave it alone. 

5. Helped me be "sustainable" - Did it?  According to this 2007 article from Treehugger, it does not.  Damn.