New app aims to cut plastic waste at the source by tracing leakage points

Every year, more than eight tons of plastic waste end up polluting the oceans and destroying marine habitats. Figuring out where that plastic litter originates from is key to making a significant dent in this growing environmental crisis. A new app developed by scientists in Norway aims to do exactly that.

The new project, currently under development at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), plans to create a model that will show where plastic collects and find out where in the region it comes from.

Though the app is intended for clean-up crews, the developers also plan to make it available for beachgoers who could use it as they walk along the shoreline. Whenever they would come across a piece of plastic litter, they would take a picture of it and enter its GPS coordinates through the app.

The app would then access a visual database to identify what the object is and account for factors like ocean currents, tides, and weather patterns to estimate the ocean route that the item took before ending up in the sand.

If suspected sources of such waste are determined along that route, they may be paid a visit by local authorities. Particular hotspots of plastic litter accumulation would also be recorded and prioritized for clean-ups.

The current plan is to recruit 100 people to test the app during Norwegian ocean trash pickup projects. It should be ready for a roll-out to the public by next spring.

“Actions to clean up plastic don’t do much good if you don’t deal with the sources of the plastic at the same time,” says Christina Hellevik, who is working on the project. “It’s urgent to find the sources of the plastic, and to make good decisions.”

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