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  • Litter is everywhere – but how much is there, and why does it matter? Litterati is an online citizen science (OCS) project that allows participants to photograph, upload and tag litter in their own area.

    Rights: © 2019 Litterati, LLC


    This project has citizen scientists photographing litter in their own area and categorising it in a standardised way. Data can then be downloaded, patterns discussed and potential actions to change littering behaviour put in place.


    Reach: Worldwide

    Nature of science focus: OCS projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. Identify aspects of NoS that your students need to get better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.

    Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data, Use evidence, Critique evidence, Interpret representations, Engage with science

    Science focus: pollution, environmental science, plastics, properties of materials, sustainability

    Some suggested science concepts:

    • Litter can be grouped into different types based on its properties.
    • Recycling codes and practices are based on the properties of the materials.
    • We can recycle some kinds of rubbish more easily than others.
    • Litter is harmful to the environment.

    Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.

    Some examples of learning outcomes:

    Students can:

    • categorise a variety of different litter types based on their properties
    • interpret visual representations of data relating to litter types collected
    • explain about the source and major contributors of litter in their own area
    • apply their knowledge to suggest a variety of strategies for getting rid of particular types of litter in their own area.

    You don’t understand or think about the impact [litter] has until you see it up close. What is does to the environment and what it does to wildlife is horrible.

    Lower secondary student

    About Litterati

    Litterati is a free downloadable app that uses geotags and keywords to identify problem areas and identify the most commonly found products and brands. In 2020 they opened up access to the Litterati’s Global Litter Database, which has over 6,000,000 pieces of litter photographed, mapped, and labeled.

    Rights: © 2019 Litterati, LLC

    Litterati app

    Litterati is an app to identify litter problem areas and to identify the most commonly found products and brands. The data will be used to work with companies and organisations to find more sustainable solutions.

    Although it is designed for users over 13 years of age, teachers can set up a club that their students join.

    Citizen scientists can take a photo of a piece of litter and tag it using the COMB acronym:

    C = category (food, coffee, fizzy drink, etc.)

    O = object (bottle, cup, bag, etc.)

    M = material (plastic, paper, aluminium, etc.)

    B = brand (McDonalds, Coca Cola, etc.)

    The app adds a geotag, and the teacher can then download the club’s dataset, and as a class, you can explore the trends and patterns across your own data. Analysing the data supports the ‘engage with science’ capability as students can use their data to address particular problem types of litter in their own area.

    By analysing the results of litter logging, discussions could be had about the results and what they mean. The flow-on to allowing students to show that they are “ready, willing and able” to take action on a science issue is obvious. There are many actions that the students could take to develop in this area – writing to the principal using evidence to back up a suggested school-wide action, presenting to the board of trustees or sharing their research and ideas through school assemblies, making posters and so on. The ways to raise local awareness are significant.

    Using Litterati's Open Data you can download custom data subsets from the Global Litter Database. The tool can help you generate data reports of up to 50,000 pieces of litter and can be filtered by type, country, date etc.

    Nature of science

    Litterati is strongly positioned for helping to develop students’ understanding about using evidence and/or engaging with science from the ‘Investigating in science and ‘Participating and contributing’ substrands of the Nature of science.

    Related content

    Plastic is a wicked problem. It’s incredibly useful, but it’s also a huge environmental issue. A helpful resource is Thinking about plastic – planning pathways which includes our interactive planning pathway – use this to begin a cross-curricular look at plastics.

    New Zealand science organisations Royal Society Te Apārangi and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor have created reports and resources to help us rethink plastic.

    Read the Connected article Down the drain to see how students in Petone, Lower Hutt, took action to prevent rubbish from entering their local marine environment.

    We have curated information from the Building Science Concepts Book 60 Rubbish: How Do We Deal with It? for use in the early to middle primary years.

    The article Material World – Recycling and biodegradability curates Hub’s resources into the following topics:

    • The issue of waste
    • Modern landfill systems
    • Biodegradability, recycling and reuse
    • Plastic recycling

    Citizen science

    Planning for students to be citizen scientists provides pedagogical support for educators interested in contributing to an online citizen science project.

    Backyard Battle and Mizuiku Upstream Battle are two citizen science projects run by Keep New Zealand Beautiful. The aim is to collect and audit litter to help provide a better understanding of the pathways and root causes of pollution in Aotearoa.

    This case study details how a similar project was used with students in year 2–4.

    Sustainable Coastlines is running a long-term beach litter citizen science project Litter Intelligence.

    Global Earth Challenge is another international project that has a section on plastic pollution.

    Useful links

    Litterati’s blog contains well written articles useful for stimulating discussion, although they’re on the Medium platform that only allows you to read a limited number of articles for free each month.

    These case studies show how other schools have used Litterati in this way and the impact it has had.

    The Ministry of Education’s Building Science Concepts Book 61: Recycling: New Uses for Rubbish supports the understanding that materials can be classified by their properties.

    Use the lesson plans, interactive worksheets and other resources in the Keep New Zealand Beautiful (KNZB) Kiki Kiwi & Friends ‘Litter Less’ programme for 5–11-year-olds.

    This Radio NZ news story looks at the work undertaken by volunteers in the Hutt Valley and how they have used the app.


    This outline was written as part of Victoria University of Wellington’s Citizen Scientists in the Classroom project funded by the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative.

      Published 10 April 2019, Updated 21 April 2022 Referencing Hub articles
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