Our Voice: Encouraging people to pick up litter a great idea

June 26, 2013 

Nothing ruins a pleasant view or a walk in nature quite like a pile of trash.

Expecting people to quit littering seems a bit pointless. Slobs who don't bother to properly throw away their garbage obviously don't care how their actions affect others.

But perhaps more can be expected from those who would never dream of littering in the first place.

While many folks would never toss their trash on the ground, they often don't go out of their way to clean up the litter they do come across.

Now, however, there is hope that might change thanks to the efforts of some Tri-City college students and their professor.

Peter Christenson, an art and digital technology instructor at Washington State University Tri-Cities, has launched a campaign to encourage people to find and pick up trash, and he plans on using social media and technology to get it done.

It's a promising idea, and we hope it catches on.

Perhaps one day it will be second nature for people to clean up litter they see instead of simply ignoring it.

The effort started last fall when Christenson recruited WSU Tri-City students to help him clean up Bateman Island in Richland, which seems to be a haven for litterbugs.

They left with 30 trash bags full of garbage, as well as photos and video of where each piece of litter was found.

The group used GPS technology to map and document the location of the trash and then posted it to their website. Check out the website at www.littertrail.com. Enter the site to find the map of Bateman Island and then click on any pinned location. A photo will appear of a piece of trash.

There was a ton.

The idea is that by uploading photos of where the litter is, then picking it up, people will start to become more aware of the mess in the community and feel compelled to clean up the garbage they come across.

The data also can then be used to track the history of an area based on the type and amount of trash collected. Part of Christenson's research shows that places with heavy litter tend to attract even more litter. Cleaning up these areas and paying attention to the amount of garbage found there might discourage people from trashing it again.

That's part of the dream anyway.

Christenson has said he is working on a smartphone application to tie into the project's website. He also is seeking a way to fund the development of the project. People can't upload their photos to the website, but that is the goal.

Once the idea catches on and the website is full of photos, people might feel compelled to join the movement. Instead of walking by that sandwich wrapper, they can take a photo of it, send it to the website and then throw it away.

The WSU students and their professor are on to something. We hope he gets the money and support he needs to continue the project.

A landscape without litter would be terrific.

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