Creating Order in the New World

You’ve heard of the glitterati (rich and famous people who walk on red carpets), and you’ve heard of the Illuminati (mysterious secret society people who think they know something we don’t). Then there are the literati (well-educated types who read books), but, have you heard of the litterati, with three t’s? No? Well, let me explain.

I’m Loving It by Hartwin Wolf via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I am, as you may have guessed, a member of the litterati. Some of us have read books, and some of us may be famous, some of us may even be members of secret societies (who knows?), but the one thing we all have in common is that we pick up litter. We share a dislike of seeing other people’s trash on the sidewalk, and now we also share an app on our phones.

Litterati was created by Jeff Kirschner who remembered a time when he was a kid at camp and, when the parents were coming to pick up their little campers, the camp leader said “Everyone pick up five pieces of trash!” In no time at all, the campsite was litter-free. One thing lead to another and he came up with a way to expand on that idea. Now we can all feel a part of his global camp cleanup crew.

I first came across his idea when I saw his TED talk and I was so impressed that I immediately downloaded the app onto my iPhone. I have always been annoyed by litter, but his program turned my frustration into a useful tool for identifying, locating, and notifying the sources of trash. Any trash that has a logo (and that is most of it) can be traced back to its source. Even cigarette butts.

Soda Can by Skitterphoto via Pexels (CC0)

The idea is that, with a photo from a smart phone, every item of litter can have its location identified as well as the date and time it was recorded. In addition, if it has a logo the company that produced it can be notified of how many of their items wind up as trash on the sidewalk and where they were found.

Two weeks ago, when I went for my usual walk, I went prepared.  I took a trash bag and some disposable plastic gloves. Before you say anything, yes, I realize that I am adding to the world’s supply of plastic trash, but on balance I think we are further ahead.

I walked for twenty minutes and noticed lots of trash before I turned around to walk home. On my return journey, I started to photograph and pick up the rubbish. I found it tricky at first to hold the bag, take a picture, and pick up the trash, but I soon developed a working technique. Most of the time that meant putting down the trash bag to take the picture, and then trying not to feel self-conscious about taking photos of litter. I did get a few bewildered looks from passing strangers, but nobody questioned me and a couple of people smiled.

I focused on taking pictures of the trash with logos, but I didn’t take pictures of or pick up cigarette butts because there were just too many of them. However, I did pick up a lot of unidentifiable stuff along with the items with trademarks.

Litter Waste Discarded Cup Pollution Garbage
Discarded Cup from Max Pixel (CC0)

The most surprising part of this was how quickly I filled up my trash bag. I was only half way home when it was as full and as heavy as I cared to carry. I then took that dirty, wet, heavy, trash bag home, and got only a few more sideways glances. I dropped it into the dumpster at my condo when I got home, and felt as though I had done something good for the planet.

I’m going to make this a regular part of my walks now. In fact, it provides me with more motivation to get out and get walking, so as an added benefit it is good for my health! Win-win.

Oh, and by the way, Jeff Kirschner isn’t just a miscellaneous TED talker. He even answered—on a Sunday evening—a query that I had. The question could have waited and could have been answered by a minion, but I exchanged a few emails with the man himself. He even taught me how to take a screen shot. All that and he makes the world a better place. Hmmm. I wonder if his real name is Clark Kent.




  1. Can’t stand litter bugs. Our house is on a main taxi route and the buggers regulatory turf things out the windows. I used to go ballistic. These days , like you, I just pick the crap up, then get the gardener to sweep whatever I miss.

  2. Good for you Anne. This is great. We have an annual clean up in my neighbourhood in the spring where we all head out with garbage bags. I always feel so good after participating, but it should be done more than once a year. Maybe those litterbugs will start to feel guilty if they see others out there picking up their trash? That would be nice.

  3. The Litterati app is now downloaded on my phone! Thanks so much for this information, and the Ted Talk is excellent! There will always be litterbugs and I don’t need to take their names in vain, or cop an attitude towards these unseen folks. I figure we all do what we do for different reasons. But I LOVE taking photos and letting the companies know where their products end up. And creating cyber communities for working together. Just LOVE this!!
    There are also pincher/grabber tools that could be used instead of plastic gloves. I may go purchase one of those as they are handy around the house as well.
    This may replace my current walking activity of catching Pokemon on my Pokemon Go! app.

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