CRWP’s new data collection project is garbage

Skyler Lewis collects rubbish for the Copper River Steward’s Clean-up Journal project. Photo courtesy of Shae Bowman

The library has shut its doors. The North Star Theatre is closed. Kayak Cafe is serving no lattes. So why not spend a day out collecting garbage?

A new project by the Copper River Watershed Project and the Eyak Preservation Council has Cordovans picking up litter and reporting it using an app. The Anecdata app differentiates plastic from aluminum and napkins from candy bar wrappers, giving the CRWP a fine-grained look at just what kind of rubbish is clogging up the watershed.

The Copper River Steward’s Clean-up Journal project was created as a coronavirus-safe alternative to the annual Cordova Cleanup Day. Organizers plan to enliven the project with games like “trash bingo” and prizes such as tote bags and T-shirts, said CRWP operations manager Shae Bowman.

“It’s really nice to be outside and to be doing something positive amidst all this fear and stress and confusion associated with the coronavirus,” Bowman said. “It’s a fun way to get outside and do something that’s good for the community that isn’t about the coronavirus.”

Collecting better data on Cordova’s litter will allow conservationists to target their messaging more precisely, organizers said. For instance, if a large number of discarded plastic water bottles were found, conservationists could respond by ramping up their promotion of reusable bottles, said Skye Steritz, program manager for EPC. The project has been aided by CRWP invasive plant coordinator Ashley Taylor, who also does contract work for Anecdata. Taylor’s familiarity with Anecdata’s data collection service has helped the project use it more effectively, organizers said.

Recording the brands of littered packaging — for instance, differentiating Coke bottles from Pepsi Bottles — can also be useful, Steritz said.

“If we’re seeing a lot of Coca-Cola products, we can say, ‘Hey, Coca-Cola, why are we seeing so many of your bottles here?’ and take it back to that higher manufacturing level,” she said.

Organizers are on the lookout for volunteers who want to spend an hour or two outside picking up litter and logging it using Anecdata, Bowman said.

“Every person helping out makes a big difference,” Steritz said. “We all feel better if we’re walking around and seeing a cleaner environment.”