70. Global Alert - Floating Trash
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that up to 80% of marine litter originates on land, the majority of which makes its way into waterways end eventually the ocean, causing negative social, environmental and economic impacts. A 2009 report titled, “Marine Litter: A Global Challenge,” prepared in partnership between Ocean Conservancy and UNEP Regional Seas Programme, identified the urgent need for the development of a system like Global Alert. Regional Seas participants identified the need for litter monitoring programs in most regions to help formulate management solutions. Participants emphasized the need for education and public awareness as key components of effective environmental protection. Additionally, analysis revealed a widespread lack of systematic knowledge on the amounts, sources, fates, trends and impacts (social, economic and environmental) of marine litter, which has hampered the development and implementation of effective mitigation actions.
Global Alert is a free, open-source web-based platform that empowers citizens and communities to collect, share, and analyze data on floating trash in rivers and coastlines. Harnessing the potential of citizen science and community reporting, users generate content by uploading images, descriptions, and measurements of local floating trash conditions via mobile devices or computers. These individual contributions are integrated into the Global Alert database and displayed in a user-friendly format—charting submissions on an online map, describing their nature and intensity, and identifying trends—in real time. This allows for immediate sharing of findings and the potential to identify problems or hotspots of activity as they emerge. It also facilitates both the discovery of the pollution source, and the creation of strategies and solutions, to manage and preempt it, including increased inter-watershed communication, various forms of catchment, and new recycling schemes. In effect, a global “neighborhood watch” for floating trash is created, allowing communities to first measure, and then manage, the problem.
The high-impact potential of Global Alert rests in two unique innovations for managing this environmental problem: 1) integrated information collection, sharing, and analysis, and 2) the creation of a visual snapshot of the situation. These unique approaches are explored below.
Integrated information collection, sharing, and analysis: The Global Alert platform enables integrated water management through the mutual consent and participation of stakeholders in all watersheds and coastal areas, even far inland. By creating transparency in reporting, and sharing information on an open platform, stakeholders will be able to use this information to bring about community collaboration or solutions to address areas that might have been overlooked. This information will allow for efficient use of resources to place attention to hotspot areas of trash that need improvements. Once these areas are known, community or government entities can consider ways to implement catch methods such as booms and trap devices, organize regular cleanups, and evaluate from where some of the debris may be originating. Collection of debris will also spur recycling and other re-use options for the material.
Creating a Visual Snapshot of the Situation: The core application will combine user-input data about the locations of both floating trash and clean coastlines. Users will be able to participate in Global Alert by uploading plastic pollution data (pictures or video) with mobile devices or computers. Indicators or measures of debris data will be visible layers on Google Maps, allowing for a variety of "warning" colors depending on the community "pollution" rating for that segment of river or coastline. Problem trash zones will be highlighted so that motivated individuals, NGOs, universities, community groups, and local governments can take action.
Global Alert’s primary goal is to reduce the amount of plastic trash that reaches the ocean by being both an awareness platform and a management tool to drive sustainable change globally. As an Awareness and Capacity Building Tool, Global Alert will engage parts of communities that care about their watersheds and coastlines, creating a "neighborhood watch" system for their waters. This will also increase basic overall awareness about the critical link between rivers and the ocean, ultimately improving the quality of life for those living in watersheds and along coastlines. As a Water Resource and Waste Management Tool, Global Alert will facilitate integrated water resource management, initially vis-à-vis floating trash, creating benchmarks for the improvement of both freshwater and adjacent coastal regions while having positive impacts on drinking water, tourism, fishing, and habitat preservation.
Global Alert’s scalable sharing capacity will bring environmental improvements by:
- Highlighting the need for consistent and active stewardship focused on rivers as a source of debris outflow and the responsibility to keep them clean.
- Providing a global tool to allow broad audiences to gain knowledge of "hotspots," or troubled areas, stimulating cleanup or the capture of debris.
- Enabling community participation for reporting and problem solving.
- Fostering improved sharing of data between local, regional, and global level stakeholders.
- Showcasing best practices for prevention and removal methods, processes, or technologies.
- Facilitating the dissemination of educational materials, via the platform, on issues related to debris reduction, as well as expanded ecosystem and water management knowledge.
- Optimizing the management of resources across communities, including monitoring, cleanup methods, recycling or re-use processes, and long term preventative programs or policies.
- Enabling better and more informed decision making across community stakeholders.
Why it should be recognized:
Global Alert should be recognized at the WEST Summit because it is an innovative solution that aims to reduce marine litter by challenging individuals, communities, and governments to take responsibility for the waste generated in their area. Global Alert’s free, open-sourced web-based platform is a scalable solution that can be implemented anywhere in the world, thus creating a global network for marine litter monitoring. To date there is no system in place that identifies and monitors marine litter, making it difficult to develop strategies and solutions to better manage a regions waste stream. Global alerts platform will be the sole portal for marine litter data, making it a valuable resource for monitoring, research and mitigation. By creating accountability for a regions marine litter, Global Alert will serve as a valuable tool that will facilitate the sources of marine litter that will drive solutions and strategies to manage and prevent future pollution. Additionally, Global Alert’s platform will function as an educational tool that can raise awareness regarding marine litter and the impacts it has on society, the economy, and the environment. By harnessing the power of citizen science and community reporting, Global Alert has the ability to be a game-changer in the drive for a more sustainable society that is vital for the health of the economy and the environment.