Utter rubbish! UK’s litter-mapping drones report 454% increase in trash post-lockdown

litter mapping drones

A drone survey funded by McDonald’s has revealed the sordid scale of Britain’s trash problem. When rubbish-mapping drones scanned the coastal resort towns of Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP Council) in the month of May, it was discovered that littering had increased by 454% compared to the volumes found during the March lockdown.

In the March survey, drones picked up 22,266 items strewn on the beaches. But an AI analysis of drone data collected over a seven-day period in May led to the identification of more than 123,000 items. These included cigarette butts (47,467), paper napkins and receipts (32,678), and plastic fragments (6,578) from bottles, sweet wrappers, and such.

Over 1.5 tons of litter was identified in seven days, including over half a ton of glass bottles, mostly of alcohol. But that’s not all. Almost 7,000 items of garbage (5.7%) were family-related, including 370 toys, 342 wet wipes, and 147 juice cartons. Meanwhile, PPE made up for only 0.7% of the total trash.

AI analysis of drone data has revealed litter-dumping habits of people

Drone findings to guide trash-curbing measures

Based on these findings, the local governments will be able to take steps to tackle the beach pollution. As Ellie Mackay, CEO and founder of Ellipsis Earth, the company that operated the drones, explains:

We’re using drones, fixed cameras, and mobile and vehicle technology to create detailed litter maps, identify hot spots, and build an understanding of how the litter is traveling. The data we provide is not only highly accurate but also extremely detailed. We have seen the proven success of this approach around the world and we aim to demonstrate the power of this method for the BCP region as well as its potential to extend to other UK councils.

Garbage dumping hotspots determined from drone data

For starters, environmental charity Hubbub, who partnered on this drone survey project, will be using the research findings to identifying the places where the installation of cigarette ballot bins is direly needed. Many cigarette butts were found at a railway crossing, for example, revealing that smokers typically light a bud while waiting for the train barrier to open.

Similarly, to clamp down on beach pollution caused by take-away food items, particularly sauce sachets and napkins, local authorities may recommend food outlets to provide napkins only to those who request for them and find alternatives to sauce sachets.

Also read: UK police crack down on reckless drone pilots with Operation Foreverwing

Hubbub also has some playful initiatives up its sleeve to make beachgoers more conscientious about their surroundings. These would include the installation of a “disco bin” that lights up and plays music, bins where you can vote with your rubbish, and a pop-up Catch of the Day spoof fishmonger stall on some weekends over the summer.

Voting rubbish bin

The effectiveness of these methods will be discovered in August when a follow-up drone survey will take place in Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole. We’ll keep you posted!

Interesting read: Drones count seabirds in the Falkland Islands

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