Litterati uses Instagram to clean up the streets

| January 16, 2014

Think you’ve seen it all on social media? Think again. Instagram, the trendy social networking site du jour, has been getting a bit trashier lately. (Not in the way you think.) A new project called Litterati encourages Instagram users to upload photos of litter to the photo-sharing site.

Is it art? Is it social awareness? Environmentalism? Perhaps it’s a bit of all three. Founder Jeff Kirschner started the project more than a year ago as a way to draw awareness to the issue of littering in his native San Francisco.

The litterati home page

Litterati’s Instagram page.

The inspiration, according to a feature by Ben Schiller in Fast Company’s Co.EXIST was a walk in the woods with his two children. The trio kept encountering trash along the way. Kirschner started snapping photos and an idea was born.

The concept is simple: find litter. Take a photo. Upload it to Instagram. Use the hashtag #litterati. Throw the trash away.

The location feature on Instagram provides a map pinpoint for the trash. As more and more people upload photos, a very telling map begins to emerge, revealing areas with high levels of litter.

Kirschner hopes that the project will motivate Instagram addicts to pay attention to trash that they might otherwise pass by. After all, with Litterati, that simple act of throwing away trash becomes part of a larger movement.

Kirschner explains: “Before, picking up litter was an individual action, and you felt ‘Well, how much impact can I possibly have?’ With Litterati, that action is being amplified and shared. There’s a whole group of people worldwide that’s dedicated to the same thing. That’s empowering.”

A litterati instagram photo

Litterati has its perks beyond community engagement and goodwill. Schiller reports that “Whole Foods ran a promotion allowing anyone with a Litterati picture to claim a free cup of coffee,” and “Chipotle organized a Litterati photo contest for coastal litter” with an enticing first prize: free burritos for a year!

Kirschner is engaging schools in the Litterati project as well. “Teachers have used Litterati as a hands-on learning tool, going on litter-picking trips, and plotting what students find on the site.”

Thus far, more than 30,000 litter photographs have been added to the site. It’s spreading beyond San Francisco, and Kirschner hopes that as the database builds up, it might prove useful to city officials looking for the best areas to place new trash cans.

Now all Litterati needs is a sister program for recycling, don’t you think?

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Category: Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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