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TED Residency

Jeff Kirschner: This app makes it fun to pick up litter

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Views 1,065,278

The earth is a big place to keep clean. With Litterati -- an app for users to identify, collect and geotag the world's litter -- TED Resident Jeff Kirschner has created a community that's crowdsource-cleaning the planet. After tracking trash in more than 100 countries, Kirschner hopes to use the data he's collected to work with brands and organizations to stop litter before it reaches the ground.

- Entrepreneur
Jeff Kirschner created a global community that's eradicating litter one piece at a time. Full bio

This story starts with these two --
00:13
my kids.
00:16
We were hiking in the Oakland woods
00:17
when my daughter noticed
a plastic tub of cat litter in a creek.
00:19
She looked at me and said,
00:23
"Daddy?
00:25
That doesn't go there."
00:27
When she said that,
it reminded me of summer camp.
00:29
On the morning of visiting day,
00:31
right before they'd let our anxious
parents come barreling through the gates,
00:33
our camp director would say,
00:37
"Quick! Everyone pick up
five pieces of litter."
00:38
You get a couple hundred kids
each picking up five pieces,
00:40
and pretty soon, you've got
a much cleaner camp.
00:43
So I thought,
00:46
why not apply that crowdsourced
cleanup model to the entire planet?
00:47
And that was the inspiration
for Litterati.
00:52
The vision is to create
a litter-free world.
00:55
Let me show you how it started.
00:58
I took a picture of a cigarette
using Instagram.
01:00
Then I took another photo ...
01:04
and another photo ...
01:06
and another photo.
01:07
And I noticed two things:
01:08
one, litter became artistic
and approachable;
01:10
and two,
01:14
at the end of a few days,
I had 50 photos on my phone
01:15
and I had picked up each piece,
01:17
and I realized that I was keeping a record
01:19
of the positive impact
I was having on the planet.
01:21
That's 50 less things that you might see,
01:25
or you might step on,
01:27
or some bird might eat.
01:28
So I started telling people
what I was doing,
01:30
and they started participating.
01:33
One day,
01:36
this photo showed up from China.
01:38
And that's when I realized
01:42
that Litterati was more
than just pretty pictures;
01:43
we were becoming a community
that was collecting data.
01:46
Each photo tells a story.
01:50
It tells us who picked up what,
01:53
a geotag tells us where
01:55
and a time stamp tells us when.
01:57
So I built a Google map,
02:00
and started plotting the points
where pieces were being picked up.
02:02
And through that process,
the community grew
02:06
and the data grew.
02:10
My two kids go to school
right in that bullseye.
02:12
Litter:
02:17
it's blending into
the background of our lives.
02:18
But what if we brought it
to the forefront?
02:21
What if we understood exactly
what was on our streets,
02:23
our sidewalks
02:26
and our school yards?
02:27
How might we use that data
to make a difference?
02:29
Well, let me show you.
02:33
The first is with cities.
02:34
San Francisco wanted to understand
what percentage of litter was cigarettes.
02:36
Why?
02:41
To create a tax.
02:42
So they put a couple of people
in the streets
02:44
with pencils and clipboards,
02:46
who walked around collecting information
02:47
which led to a 20-cent tax
on all cigarette sales.
02:49
And then they got sued
02:53
by big tobacco,
02:55
who claimed that collecting information
with pencils and clipboards
02:57
is neither precise nor provable.
03:00
The city called me and asked
if our technology could help.
03:03
I'm not sure they realized
03:07
that our technology
was my Instagram account --
03:08
(Laughter)
03:10
But I said, "Yes, we can."
03:11
(Laughter)
03:13
"And we can tell you
if that's a Parliament or a Pall Mall.
03:14
Plus, every photograph
is geotagged and time-stamped,
03:18
providing you with proof."
03:21
Four days and 5,000 pieces later,
03:23
our data was used in court
to not only defend but double the tax,
03:27
generating an annual recurring revenue
of four million dollars
03:32
for San Francisco to clean itself up.
03:36
Now, during that process
I learned two things:
03:40
one, Instagram is not the right tool --
03:42
(Laughter)
03:44
so we built an app.
03:45
And two, if you think about it,
03:47
every city in the world
has a unique litter fingerprint,
03:49
and that fingerprint provides
both the source of the problem
03:52
and the path to the solution.
03:56
If you could generate a revenue stream
03:59
just by understanding
the percentage of cigarettes,
04:02
well, what about coffee cups
04:04
or soda cans
04:06
or plastic bottles?
04:08
If you could fingerprint San Francisco,
well, how about Oakland
04:10
or Amsterdam
04:13
or somewhere much closer to home?
04:15
And what about brands?
04:19
How might they use this data
04:20
to align their environmental
and economic interests?
04:22
There's a block in downtown Oakland
that's covered in blight.
04:27
The Litterati community got together
and picked up 1,500 pieces.
04:31
And here's what we learned:
04:35
most of that litter came
from a very well-known taco brand.
04:37
Most of that brand's litter
were their own hot sauce packets,
04:41
and most of those hot sauce packets
hadn't even been opened.
04:46
The problem and the path
to the solution --
04:51
well, maybe that brand only
gives out hot sauce upon request
04:54
or installs bulk dispensers
04:58
or comes up with more
sustainable packaging.
05:00
How does a brand take
an environmental hazard,
05:03
turn it into an economic engine
05:06
and become an industry hero?
05:08
If you really want to create change,
05:11
there's no better place to start
than with our kids.
05:13
A group of fifth graders picked up
1,247 pieces of litter
05:16
just on their school yard.
05:19
And they learned that the most
common type of litter
05:21
were the plastic straw wrappers
from their own cafeteria.
05:24
So these kids went
to their principal and asked,
05:27
"Why are we still buying straws?"
05:30
And they stopped.
05:33
And they learned that individually
they could each make a difference,
05:34
but together they created an impact.
05:38
It doesn't matter
if you're a student or a scientist,
05:41
whether you live in Honolulu or Hanoi,
05:45
this is a community for everyone.
05:48
It started because of two little kids
in the Northern California woods,
05:51
and today it's spread across the world.
05:56
And you know how we're getting there?
05:59
One piece at a time.
06:02
Thank you.
06:04
(Applause)
06:05

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About the speaker:

Jeff Kirschner - Entrepreneur
Jeff Kirschner created a global community that's eradicating litter one piece at a time.

Why you should listen

When his 4-year old daughter saw a plastic tub of cat litter in the woods, little did Jeff Kirschner realize that it would be the spark for creating Litterati -- a global movement that's "crowdsource-cleaning" the planet one piece of litter at a time. 

Featured in National Geographic, Time Magazine, Fast Company and USA Today, Litterati has become a shining example of how communities are using technology and data to solve our world's most complex problems. 

Kirschner has shared the Litterati story at Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Facebook and Uber, keynoted environmental summits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Keep America Beautiful, as well as leading schools including Stanford, MIT and the University of Michigan. He was recently a TED Resident, where he developed Litterati into an idea worth spreading.

More profile about the speaker
Jeff Kirschner | Speaker | TED.com