Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Big Idea: A Global (positioning) Approach

Last September, I took a ten mile kayak run down the Mississippi River, and saw more debris than one person could possibly remove on their own (especially if that person is in a kayak). I won't go into too much detail, as I defined the two types debris problems in a previous posting. Let's just say it was a bit disheartening.

But there is an old saying, which is credited to Albert Einstein: “A problem well stated is half solved.” Armed with that attitude, I've decided that if I can’t solve the problem entirely, perhaps I can at least begin to help define it.

Welcome to geo-trashing. GPS devices have become somewhat commonplace. They are often part of the option package on new cars these days. The prices of hand-held devices have come way down, even as the number of features they include goes up. If you know someone who owns a hand-held GPS device, chances are you’ve heard of a game called geocaching. This might be an over-simplification, but a geo-cache is nothing more than a secret prize or treasure which is hidden by the leader of a geo-caching game. Then, the precise GPS coordinates of that treasure are posted on a web site or blog. Using only the guidance of the latitude and longitude as provided by their own global positioning system, participants set-out on a high-tech scavenger hunt… hoping to be the first to find the hidden treasure.

So, I took a second run down the Mississippi in mid-October, re-tracing the route I had taken when I saw all of these oversized debris fields and large scale trash objects. But this time, I stopped at each major pollution site, recorded a Waypoint on my GPS device, and snapped a digital photo of the object or debris field. Stated simply: I geo-tagged the trash, and started an inventory of the significant pollution problems on this stretch of river.

Soon, I will begin posting those photos and associated GPS coordinates at this blog. In doing so, I pursue three possible outcomes:

  • First, I’m hoping that a few people with greater resources than me (meaning, bigger boats and bigger muscles) might decide to go out and clean-up some of those debris sites. I’d like them to be able to drag-and-drop a photo, as well as the GPS Waypoint for that item, directly from my blog site and onto their own mapping software or handheld GPS device. I want to make it easy for people to help solve big problems, and restore some beautiful waterways.

  • Second, I’m hoping to use this site, as well as its’ sister site, DisposeOfProperly.com, to encourage businesses and other organizations to launch collective clean-up efforts. It is asking a lot to expect someone to clean-up ten miles of river. But I’m thinking it would be reasonable to approach a tire retailer (for example), and say something like this: “You put 70,000 tires every year into the Minnesota environment. I’d like to ask you to take 16 tires OUT of the Minnesota environment. (I'm making those numbers up for the sake of illustration.) To make it easier, Mr. Tire Guy, I’m going to show you exactly where each tire is located, and I'm going to give you a picture of exactly the item you’re looking for. So your team should be able to get this job done within, say, two and a half hours. By the way, I’ll give you some exposure on my web site, and I’ll call a few reporters I know to see if we can get some coverage of your effort." Will it work? I have no idea. But it's worth a shot. *

  • Finally—and this is my favorite part—I’m hoping that other hikers, canoeists and kayakers will duplicate this effort. In other words, when you’re out there enjoying our precious rivers, and you come across a trash problem… snap a shot of it and record the location as a GPS Waypoint. Then, send them to me by email. With a lot of people participating in this geo-tagging process, I bet we can create a detailed inventory--and a remarkable understanding of the problem--therefore getting a few steps closer to a solution.

Between now and April 22nd (Earth Day), I'll begin posting some of the photos and GPS Waypoints I gathered last fall, which should help clarify this whole idea. Meanwhile, I would appreciate receiving the benefit of your feedback... as your ideas and opinions might provide clarity, as well. You know where to find me.

* I realize that tire dealers, appliance retailers and other businesses pay a lot of taxes and fees intended to satisfy their obligations to environmental recovery. But since I've quoted him once already in this posting, I'll use another of Einstein's famous phrases: "We will not solve these problems with the same thinking that created them." Based on what I've seen out there, the current methods of environmental restoration are insufficient. I think we can all do more. Personally, I've decided to focus on rivers. If I can come up with a way to help businesses profit by doing the right thing (through the goodwill and positive public relations that can result), I'm okay with that. Again, it's worth a shot.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

1 comment:

  1. This is not a bad idea. Problem is to pull it all the way as it requires some resources and time.
    I guess it is the land owner's responsibilities to clean up their back yards. So an on-line register that shows the trash, the position and the contact details of the land owner came to my mind.
    But then the problem is, it's not always the land owner who dumped the trash in the first place, so perhaps this is too hard a penalty?
    So how can we find a way to reward those who cares for the environment an punish those who do the opposite?
    And how can we make more people interested in participation?
    /RY, Sweden