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Littercoin and Open Litter Map: Incentivising Citizen Science

Citizen science has long been a cornerstone of large scale research projects.

1911 saw the creation of The American Association of Variable Star Observers, an organisation of amateur astronomers that has contributed data on stars to educational and professional projects. Organisations on both sides of the Atlantic have contributed data on the butterfly population. The North Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has had 137’000 hours of voluntary research completed by citizens. Now, Open Litter Map is asking people to contribute data on litter pollution in our cities. With so much waste being needlessly discarded and clogging up the world’s natural habitats every year, the need for such data and subsequent action is more important than ever.

The problem with citizen science has always been how to motivate people to carry out the research. In many instances, the answer has been passion. Passionate amateur astronomers and lepidopterists are all over the world. Unfortunately, we have been slower to become passionate about protecting our environment. This is where Open Litter Map and its companion coin, Littercoin, have sought to make their mark. Your part is simple: your pictures are uploaded and tagged by category and brand. That is all you need to do to contribute Open Litter Map. Now, it’s also all work necessary for the mining of Littercoin.

Founder Sean Lynch pointed out in his 2017 TedxTallaght talk that the pictures you upload are used to ‘create maps, and tell stories’.

Citizen groups can bring the data to their local authorities. We can then point out that there aren’t enough bins. Rain washes away more waste than is clean up: we can show this too. By applying blockchains Proof of Work mining principles, Littercoin and Open Litter Map are encouraging people to contribute to these maps and stories. Rather than walking by the litter we see every time we walk down a street, we can help authorities and citizens the world over get a clearer picture of the waste we constantly leave lying around.

The data produced by Open Litter Map is open source. School projects and groups like Tidy Towns and Clean Coasts can use this data to focus clean up efforts. Eventually, it can drive larger scale, policy-driven initiatives. Data on litter is incredibly vague and general. We have to take advantage of Open Litter Maps to change this. The proliferation of smartphones only makes this easier, with only location services and a camera needed to carry out the research. All of us can contribute to the project and take part in its game-oriented leader boards.

For Open Litter Map and Littercoin to become fully viable, it needs proper funding and a massive uptake in activity.

They will be seeking a grant in order to fund the distribution of Littercoins and further software development. Until then it is currently taking donations on a crowfunding basis, which can be done here. You can donate in standard currency but the project also takes donations in the form of crypto.

However, more important than funding is the uploading of data. All you need to do is create a profile on the website, take pictures and upload them. The metadata of the photo will take care of the where and when. The effort required is minimal. It is something that so many of us do all the time. We take pictures at social events, on holidays and when we’re simply out and about. We take pictures of our brunches and holidays for Facebook and Instragram all the time. We can do it for Open Litter Map too. As Sean Lynch himself says ‘Imagine what we could do if everyone started taking photos. We see it everyday, so start taking photos’.

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