I am an architect in Toronto, and a runner. For years, I have been picking up trash on my runs and walks. A few years ago, running on a gorgeous beach on Mexico’s Maya Riviera, I was shocked by the amount of trash on the beach. I picked up several water bottles, straws, cups and plastic cutlery items. The line of trash continued along the coast with plastic containers and pieces caught in patches of seaweed, mixed up in twigs and fallen tree branches, or just lying in the sand. I came across a plastic bag that I quickly filled with trash, mostly plastic and Styrofoam containers.
After picking up perhaps four garbage bags full of plastic on a 10K run, on this otherwise stunning beach, I was saddened to see that I hardly made a dent in the problem. There was still trash lining the beach as far as the eye could see. And in a few hours, once the tide rose, that trash would all end up in the Caribbean Sea. I was hit hard with this realization, and conceded to myself that this problem is much greater than any one person.
In this state of anger and frustration, I was struck by an idea: “What if everyone on the planet picked up just one piece of trash a day, and that there is an App that tracks your progress and humanity’s impact on cleaning the planet?”
I started thinking about this idea relentlessly, and was encouraged to discover people like David Suzuki, and celebrities like Oprah talking about and encouraging the same thing:
“If every person picked up just one piece of litter today, there would be over 300 million fewer pieces of litter. If every person picked up ten pieces of litter, there would be 3 billion fewer pieces damaging our environment.”
~ Oprah Winfrey
After thinking about it for two years, and unsuccessfully trying to write the App on my own, I took the plunge to make this real. We screened several App developers, selected a team overseas, and spent the next six months working with them to create the App. In May of 2017, One Piece a Day was born and launched on the Apple App store, and a few weeks later on Google Play.
The App is essentially a simple counter that lets you take a photo of a plastic bottle, straw, Styrofoam cup etc. lying on the ground as you run, jog, walk, go to work or school, stroll on the beach or park etc. You take a photo, save it, recycle or dispose of the piece responsibly, and watch your contribution to cleaning the planet grow on your personal counter that tracks your individual effort. In addition to your personal counter, a second counter tracks the impact of the global population participating in cleaning the planet and logging their contribution. We added a research and awareness section, during which process I became acutely aware of the seriousness and magnitude of the problem and the effect on our parks, cities, and devastating impact on our oceans and wildlife.
I was never an environmentalist previously, and was not aware of the impact trash was having on our planet. Discovering the hard-hitting numbers and the impact on birds and sea animals was eye-opening, disturbing, and frankly shocking.
“A full 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into our oceans; the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute” – (That’s almost 25 million tons of plastic annually). ~ Oct 2016, World Economic Forum.
“Nearly Every Seabird on Earth Is Eating Plastic – Plastic trash is found in 90 percent of seabirds. The rate is growing steadily as global production of plastics increases.” ~ Laura Parker, National Geographic, September 2015.
“46,000 pieces of plastic now occupy the ocean surface per square mile.” ~ Plastic Pollution Coalition.
The App was designed by a runner, but is meant for everyone. There is a leaderboard to inspire friendly competition and lets you see how your efforts stack up against your friends, family, or even between schools. The App features a GPS tracker and tracks the time and location where you’ve picked up the trash. As runners and hikers can sometimes cover huge distances during training, running on and off trails and road, they can often reach areas seldom visited by city and park cleaners, or others. This information gained by runners, walkers and the global community is invaluable as it will be shared with researchers and scientists, and help to track garbage patterns and identify trash hot spots, eventually leading to specific targeted action. The contribution of runners, walkers & hikers in this effort is key.
Our vision is that if enough people are engaged and picking up trash daily, there will be a tipping point: a global shift in consciousness where people stop throwing garbage, and start to question and challenge the very reason we need things like single use disposable plastics. Runners are key to reaching this tipping point.
One of my favourite quotes is from Robert Swan, Arctic explorer and environmentalist.
“The greatest threat to the planet is that somebody else will save it.”
Like so many people around the globe today, I believe that the days of someone else solving the world’s problems are over. I also believe that with the incredible connective power of Social Media today, and tools like One Piece A Day, anyone with a smart phone can be empowered to take simple actions, like picking up one piece of rubbish a day, and actually make a real difference.
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Dmytriy is an architect based in Toronto Canada, father of two, and an avid runner. When not running his architecture practice with his Partner Karen Mak, he is running with his kids, cleaning the planet, and spreading awareness in schools and colleges across the GTA. One Piece a Day has received the support of Dr. David Suzuki and was featured on a FB post on the David Suzuki Foundation in August 2017.