Plastic never goes away – Can apps contribute to avoid plastic pollution?

On: September 23, 2018
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About Clara Bläser


Video: Plastic Pollution Coalition – OPEN YOUR EYES


The Plastic Age

There is more plastic in the sea, than stars in the galaxy. Each year, 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, and by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight (Mills) (Cózar 10239).

Can apps change that? Is an app able to raise awareness so that people change their behavior of using plastic?

The Traveling Trash Tour

24 year old Clara Bütow from Germany made it to the newspaper with the topic of plastic pollution. Currently Clara is cycling Europe with a big flamingo sculpture made out of plastic waste and everyone can join her on the ride from Paris to Berlin. She wants to call our attention to plastic waste, as we are throwing away plastic every day, and show that it is time to change towards zero plastic waste. On her journey she makes several stops including events, clean-up days or conferences, all around the topic plastic pollution (

With apps against the plastic consumption

This project has aroused my interest in contributing something to minimize my waste and to save our world form perishing in plastic waste. To figure out what I as an individual can actually do, I stumbled over an app called ‘My Little Plastic Footprint’. 

This app is the first plastic footprint app for consumers. The launch of the app took place in Nairobi, Kenya, during the United Nations Environment Assembly, organized by UN Environment, in December 2017. It shows how to avoid plastic in our everyday lives, how to replace plastic with reusable items and tells us about facts of the oceans, micro plastic and much more. The app enlightens the user about plastic pollution and the consequences, and encourages to change the behavior to less plastic usage.

There are similar apps like ‘Beat the Microbead‘ to scan QR codes of products to look if they have micro plastic in them or the app ‘Refill‘ where you can see locations nearby to refill your water bottle. ‘Litterati‘ is an app where you can upload pictures of the trash you found, record the location, litter type and brand to collect the data, identifying the most commonly found brands, products and problem hotspots (Kirschner).

The “mobile app economy”, which refers to the economy that has been created around the development and delivery of software applications for smartphones and tablets, has been growing rapidly in the recent years. This market is still growing. Having a smartphone hence to having apps on this device (Tian et al. 301). This is the chance to address a wide audience with reasonable afford.

But do these apps really change something? Is it enough to make that kind of apps available for users and hope that this will raise awareness and have an impact on the plastic pollution topic? Or does it need a real person like Clara Bütow to motivate people to change something?

By downloading and scrolling through the above mentioned apps, it pretty quickly becomes clear that they contain a lot of valuable information on the topic plastic pollution. For example users learn, that the origin of most of the plastic pollution (80%) is traced to land sources, half of the plastic that is used every day is thrown away after minutes and that we cannot really speak of recycling but of down cycling because plastic does not actually disappear, it only becomes smaller and smaller, being converted into micro plastic (Jambeck et al. 770). The apps inform the user pretty well about what is going on. Additionally, these mobile apps offer a lot of interactive parts like games or quizzes, to persuade users to change their attitude or behavior towards ideas and events. You can say “as a general rule, persuasion techniques are most effective when they are interactive” (Fogg 6). So the apps give a good basis to positively influence people, changing little simple things in their daily lives like to not use plastic straws anymore. 

Furthermore the “look and feel” of the information is a very important factor for the outcome of influencing and persuasion. The better the information is presented, the better it is adapted, and the presentation in the case of these mobile apps is very responding (Fogg 9). Finally most of the applications invite you to take part in events or talks on the topic plastic, recycling, pollution etc.. So, we do get the bridge between virtual application and real people or activity.

Studies about smartphone apps influencing people’s health behavior showed, that the widespread adoption of mobile devices is highlighting a significant opportunity to impact health behaviors globally. This points out, that mobile apps can have an influence about users attitude. After all, there has to be said that studies about apps have some risk of bias (Freeman, Li and Zhao).

There are only a few general studies on the subject of apps and their effect on users. The studies of health care in context with apps is predominant in this field. There is mentioned that apps cannot replace a visit to the doctor in most cases, but nevertheless attention is paid to the topic of health. The greatest potential of such smartphone applications is seen in the strengthening of health awareness. If this can be adapted to the apps of plastic consumption, it can be said that in any case the awareness for the problem of plastics and the environment will be strengthened and users will change something about their actions and get motivated to go to events to get in touch with activists. (Schlimpert)

Be a part of the change

There are ways where technologies actually help beating plastic pollution. The internet and social media raise awareness on critical issues. More and more accounts on Instagram deal with topics around sustainability, zero waste etc. They influence follower to a new lifestyle. Social media uses hashtags, raises funds and challenges teams to hold events across the globe. And as in 2017, the smartphone sales amounted to more than 1.4 billion devices worldwide, also apps can contribute in raising awareness for plastic pollution ( There are many ways to make a contribution. Every small step in the right direction will help to change something, so it is also important to use as many channels as possible to reach as many people as possible because this is a subject that concerns us all. It is about time to change something before it will be too late. Everyone of us should feel responsible for our earth and environment.



Cózar, Andrés, et al. “Plastic Debris in the Open Ocean”. PNAS 111.28 (July 2014): 10239-10244.

Fogg, Ph.D. B.J. Persuasive Technology. Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003.

Freeman, Becky, and Li, Mu, and Zhao, Jing. “Can Mobile Phone Apps Influence People´s Health Behavior Change? An Evidence Review. Journal of Medical Internet Research 18(11).e287 (November 2016). 2018. Clara Bütow. 14 September 2018. <>.

Jambeck, Jenna R., et al. “Plastic Waste Inputs From Land into the Ocean.” Sciencemag 347.6223 (February 2015): 768-771.

Kirschner, Jeff. “This App Makes it Fun To Pick up Litter.” tiny TED. TED Conferences, LLC. 18 September 2018. <>.

Mills, Theadora. “5 Ways Technologies Are Helping Beat Plastic Pollution.” ITU News. 14 September 2018. <>.

“Plastic Pollution Coalition – Open Your Eyes – Overview Narrated by Jeff Bridges (2016).” YouTube. 28 March 2016. 18 September 2018. <>.

Schlimpert, Veronika. “Sind Apps präzise genug?” hautnah dermatologie 31.1 (February 2015): 49  Neitzke, Dirk. 2018. Statista GmbH. 14 September 2018. <>.

Tian, Yuan et al. “What Are the Characteristics of High-Rated Apps? A Case Study on Free Android Applications.” IEEE. International Conference on Software Maintenance and Evolution (2015): 301-310.


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