Clean up litter with purpose!

The Zero Waste Warriors Litterati challenge

By Madeline Stanton

When I joined the Zero Waste Warriors, an initiative of Climate Reality Chicago, my first opportunity for action was an in-person cleanup (masked and socially distanced). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join on that day.

I realized we needed a way for people to participate in a cleanup even if they couldn’t join us in person on the designated day.

This was my chance to make my first contribution to the group. With a little research, I learned about the Litterati App and suggested we start a litter cleanup challenge that anyone in our group could participate in from home.

Having previously worked for a location technology company, I understood the value this App would offer our group. Litterati would allow us to track the location and type of litter, as well as the overall count of the litter we picked up. By contrast, at our in-person cleanups, the litter went straight into garbage cans or recycling containers.

The Litterati App

Individuals, volunteer groups, schools and organizations can download the App and create challenges to collect and properly discard litter in their local communities. You set the range for the location, dates of the challenge and the target for the number of pieces of litter to be tracked. As with our in-person cleanups, we recommend people wear gloves and carry a 5-gallon bucket with them.

Once you join a challenge, it’s as easy as four steps:

  • Take a picture of each piece of litter in the App. Each piece needs its own picture.
  • Dispose of the litter properly.
  • Tag the photo for the type of litter (plastic bag, paper cup, aluminum can, etc.).
  • Challenge others to help you reach your target!

The final step is to do something with the data.

The Value of Tracking

Tracking litter allows us to see how much we’re collecting. For example, in our second challenge, we had a goal of 2,000 pieces of litter, and I was shocked when we doubled the target, finishing with more than 4,000 pieces collected.

Since we started this in 2020, we have tracked more than 6,000 pieces of litter, and I can’t wait until we hit 10,000! Beyond the fun of seeing our success and who makes the leader board each challenge, we also learn about the litter.

We can see where litter tends to accumulate and what types of litter are most common. To bring attention to some of the most abundant types —such as face masks during the pandemic— we create picture collages that we use to educate the public on social media. This helps us promote our challenge and see the impact of our cleanups. As we approach one year of Litterati challenges, we plan to evaluate our data and hope to put it to good use soon.

You can see multiple stories on the Litterati website about how the data has been used to promote campaigns to tackle litter at its source. For example, a citizen project in Fort Collins, Colo., using the Litterati App, discovered that plastic bags made up 17% of the city’s plastic litter. The City Council voted to put a ballot measure banning plastic bags on the ballot, and in April of this year, voters approved the measure.

The Litterati App illustrates the power of data and community that can help lead us to a litter-free world.

Join us in picking up litter!

Our current Litterati challenge runs through Oct. 22. To join, download the App, available on the Apple Store or Google Play, then type in the code 835020 to join our challenge.

You can follow our Zero Waste Warriors page for future challenges and cleanups.

Get involved with ZWW

Learn more about ZWW, our actions and how to join the team on our Zero Waste Warriors page on the Climate Reality Chicago Metro chapter’s website. If picking up trash isn’t your thing, we have lots of other activities you can get involved in. For example, we recently celebrated reaching our goal of 500 signatures on a petition to urge Portillo’s to stop using Styrofoam. We will soon begin our outreach to decision-makers at Portillo’s.

Madeline Stanton is a corporate social responsibility professional, who is passionate about global citizenship, employee engagement, social innovation and sustainability. Her work is focused on employee volunteering, corporate grantmaking and disaster relief. She joined the Climate Reality Chicago Metro Chapter in October 2020.


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