Crowdsourced Clean up: A Conversation with Litterati Founder, Jeff Kirschner

ImageBy Heidi Quigley, Special Projects Associate, Grossman Marketing Group

According to the “Keep America Beautiful” organization, over 51 billion pieces of trash are littered on U.S. roadways each year.  In a recent post, we discussed the growth of social media tools that help create awareness of the environment and how to improve it.  One tool we mentioned was Litterati, a global photo gallery of litter that allows users to share their findings and engage with brands. We recently had the chance to interview Litterati’s founder, Jeff Kirschner, to learn more about the project and the impact it has had thus far, as well as their future plans for growth.

Kirschner explained that he founded Litterati in an effort to reduce litter rates.  Litterati is an online resource that allows users to photograph litter with Instagram and share their findings with friends using the hash tag “#Litterati.” They are then encouraged to discard the litter properly.

In our interview, Kirschner shed some light on the world of litter. He told us that the majority of Litterati contributors range from 18 to 34 years old and are primarily a tech-savvy audience. As Litterati has grown, he has noticed a significant change in his purchase choices, his family’s behaviors, and also in his local environment’s level of awareness. The enjoyment and creativity of this “digital landfill” allows for users to create their own caption for their photos.  “People are literally titling their captions as if they are titling a piece of artwork, while others are more black and white. Notably, other than the photographs, everything on the website is black and white in-order to mimic the black and white origin of this issue—there is something that clearly does not belong there, so we must put it where it belongs,” Kirschner explained.

Litterati is about bringing people together that may not know each other, but are contributing to the same objective. For example, Kirschner mentioned two people who picked up cigarette butts within miles of one another.  These people did not know each other, but they picked up litter and tagged “#Litterati” within minutes of each other.

One of Litterati’s long-term goals is connecting large quantities of people who have the same universal goal of a cleaner environment. Kirschner said, “When dealing with a global issue such as litter, it can be overwhelming to people who are looking to find a solution.  However, if one person knows that there is another person close by doing the same thing, fifty other people in the same city, hundreds in the same state, and thousands in the same country, then suddenly people realize that they are not alone.  Although this problem is huge and daunting, it actually can be fixed if we all play a part.”

Kirschner also discussed the response he has seen from big brands.  He told us that companies such as Whole Foods and Starbucks are looking to integrate corporate sustainability into their many promotions. He reported that Whole Foods recently teamed up with Litterati users. During this promotion, each person who picked up and discarded an item of trash properly was rewarded with a free coffee.  In the future, there will be more potential opportunities for Litterati to collaborate on another promotion with Whole Foods.

Kirschner said, “Can you imagine if Marlboro or Newport recognized that their cigarette butts are everywhere and said that they were going to build a team to start block-by-block to pick them up?  Just the P.R. alone would be good for a company like that.”

According to the statistics that can be found on the Litterati website, cigarette butts are the most littered item. Kirschner stated, “Smokers have a natural tendency to throw them out on the ground and, in some ways, this has become an accepted behavior.  After recognizing the fact that this has been happening for many years and that there are many cigarettes in each pack, it comes as no surprise that this is the most highly littered item.”

The main idea of Litterati according to Kirschner is, “Individually we can make a difference. Together we can create an impact.”

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