Big Picture

Earth Sight

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Earth Sight | Track Pollution from Space

There are thousands of satellite “birds” up there. Buzzing around at all hours of the day and night – whether commercial, military, or educational – these satellites send and receive stat from professional and amateur ground stations around the globe.

 

– Charles Hamilton, Rodolfo Giometti, Richard Grimmett ‘BeagleBone’

 

A Larger Focus

Rubbishly gave me an excellent starting point for thinking about the problem of identifying and tracking pollution (within certain identifiable forms – ie rubbish and large particulate matter) in the ecosystem / public lands. It relies on customer / user inputs to build a map of rubbish across locations anywhere in the world where a person with a smartphone (& internet connection) can roam.

But therein lies multiple problems.

If Rubbishly relies on a large and continuous user base to really begin to map out rubbish / pollution / dumping, then there will have to be a large assignment of funds directly on marketing and community upkeep to ensure Rubbishly is used by and ever growing user base.

Issues of whether to monetise the app may come into play. After all, Developing & running an app like this will ultimately have to be funded in one way or another.

Rubbishly may have some use in areas which are more commonly trekked by urban populations / travellers who are interested in anti-pollution impacts. However, Rubbishly will have to keep working to maintain user engagement and to grow it’s user base.

What about ALL the areas of the Earth not really seen daily by people? What if changes in zoning, politics and ownership render some areas suddenly out-of-bounds for foot travellers? How can we ensure that areas tagged as polluted with rubbish are either ‘checked as cleaned’ and maintained as cleaned in areas where we haven’t build waste management partnerships?

How much effort daily will it take to build and maintain waste management and council / government partnerships?

Can there be a more efficient way in which to either streamline or replace some of these steps altogether? And how can we scale this to reach across the entirety of the Earth’s land surface?

Is there another way to look at this problem?

 

Anti-Pollution | A planetary Impact 

Large and sophisticated remote sensing satellites by Spot Image, GeoEye, and the like, are being challenged by small satellite constellation such as Planet Labs and Terra Bella that are deploying quite small but capable satellites.

 

– Ram S. Jakhu, Joseph N. Pelton ‘Global Space Governance: An International Study’

 

In the middle of Rubbishly development, I had a few brainwaves.

I contacted a friend who works with space, satellite and ML companies across America.

I learned that it would take a large amount of nontrivial image processing on them to be sure you’ve found rubbish, and you won’t be able to see it unless it’s dense enough. That said, this is an application we talked about pretty often. Also there’s not a lot of ocean coverage right now (but coastlines are covered well).

The satellites which Planet has (Dove, Flock micro satellites, which cover the whole land masses of Earth once a day – with a resolution of ~3m per pixel, could theoretically spot rubbish from space.

 

flock-satellites-1
Image courtesy of NASA
flock-satellites-2
Image courtesy of Planet

Creating an Organisation to Leverage Satellite Technology for Global Anti-Pollution Measures | From Rubbishly to Earth Sight

Earth Sight leverages satellite mapping technology for rubbish and pollution identification and tracking. Helping to make a cleaner Earth.

Earth Sight’s Vision is to Turn Big Data and Machine Learning into Action for our Partners and the Ecosystem

I thought, if you had a rubbish tracking app, it would be dependent on a large number of people using the app and platform, to gather enough points to show rubbish distributions in areas.

I thought, there has to be a larger scale solution to this, one which is not necessary reliant on the popularity (which waxes and wanes) of using an app, and of the limited scope of what people see on the ground.

Can we use both of these projects either in tandem – or do we seek to find which one is best to focus on and then give all our time and energy to the one which makes the most positive and useful difference in a smaller amount of time.

 

How Earth Sight Works + Process

Earth-Sight-Header-Aisha-Khan

 

Process | A Project Outline

On choosing a project in conjunction with an organisational partnership and goals of what to track and for what purpose, the following process is initiated: –

  1. A geographic area is chosen and the element which wishes to be tracked is noted (ie. rubbish, rate of deforestation) and an agreement is made as to what this looks like and how it should be measured.
  2. Continuous (once daily) images of set locations of flagged interest are fed to Earth Sight using the Planet API for image searching and change tracking.
  3. Earth Sight checks these images for varying degrees of change within the agreed upon parameters.
  4. These changes are then identified and tracked in the Earth Sight client API / Database.
  5. Reports are generated monthly for the use of the organisations involved for use in their own research and tracking cases.

 

This means that the satellite crosses a given location on the Earth at the same local time each revisit, which is useful for Earth science observations, weather monitoring, and military.

 

– Malcolm Macdonald, Viorel Badescu ‘The International Handbook of Space Technology’

Use Cases

In creating a viable first use case; examples can include illegal logging tracking in QLD, Australia, to rubbish dump / illegal dump tracking in areas such as Nairobi (eWaste dumps), Africa. In this case, deforestation / illegal logging tracking in Australia can be used.

  1. Deforestation tracking in a given geological location – and partnering with local organisations who are interested in tracking and identifying deforestation within given areas. For example, registering as a NFP organisation, and presenting a use case for the Australian Conservation Fund (ACF), who’s interest includes tracking illegal & unchecked deforestation in QLD and TAS states of Australia. Using this reporting to send information and details to the correct governing bodies and state representatives

The issues are not really ‘problems’ which are insurmountable. They are more about deciding ‘how’ to do the process. The set-up and the way in which we are deciding to tackle the issues. For example, Earth Sight could set up as a not-for-profit to do the initial base-line studies / volunteer work (manual pollution tracking using Planet Labs daily imaging

Partnerships + Assessing Value Proposition

PARTNERSHIPS WITH ORGANISATIONS + UNIVERSITIES

Partnerships also bring into consideration a network of eyes and organisations looking forward to this process and working on this problem. It’s far more efficient in tackling a problem, and does more to ensure a global scale of effort is achieved.

ASSESSMENT + ANALYSIS OF SATELLITE IMAGERY

But the assessment and analysis of images would be the hardest. It would require the manual labour of volunteers, who may have to be going through thousands upon thousands of images on a daily basis to be assessing the incremental or large scale changes made by deforestation – and to track the changes, according to the coordinate data – to begin to see at what rates the land clearing was occurring and to help to determine just who was clearing the land, to begin to associate these factors together and to build a case for the watchdog organisations in parliament.

This is a slow, ongoing and laborious project. It could be used with students of universities working on environmental issues, or new technology problem solving – so a marriage of both environmental studies and technology disciplines.

COMMERCIAL APPLICATION

Many companies (such as Orbital Insight “using geospatial analytics”) are using the analysis component of continuous satellite imaging of the Earth’s surface for commercial purposes eg. international comomodity analysis. This involves purchasing imagery from the companies which own the satellites (eg Planet) and developing the machine learning capabilities of image recognition in in-house developed AI systems, handled by teams of Computer Scientists. Once developed to this point, these companies can sell their services for commercial purposes at a high rate of return. Examples include assessing agricultural productivity (soil erosion, crop viability), economic testing (fuel stockpiling by competing countries / organisations) and seasonal fluctuations in customer use (customer car park monitoring).

Machine Learning Application | A Whole New Business

However, if this was to occur over a long period of time, then it would ultimately be best to create a computer science arm where appropriate machine learning (deep learning for imagery) would be harnessed in the following rough steps: 1) Learn what trees are. 2) Begin to identify trees and not-trees (empty / denuded land) 3) Begin to track the rates at which these trees disappear or not in continuos sets of location coordinates over time. 4) Use this data to visualise the rate of deforestation, where it is occurring and to allow researchers to further establish what / who are the cause of this deforestation – and the patterns of this occurrence.

A use case for ML + satellite application: –

  1. Teaching ML to see rubbish from satellite data.

This would have to start from the basics. 1) Find a place you know there is a lot of rubbish around and look at pictures of that to see whether you can tell. An example could be looking at the giant e-waste rubbish dumps in Ethiopia & other African countries. Maybe start small by identifying open air dumps (even legal ones in 1st world countries) & then starting image definition practices on those? Also have ground/field researchers to confirm the image overlay?

By getting images of areas you already know have a lot of waste and using those to work out how to find new areas based on the imagery. You could you start manually identifying rubbish within a certain amount of error, and use this (very long) process with a lot of data over several instances to teach advance scripting/ML to at least support the identification process? Theoretically of course – and possibly even teach local technicians how to identify rubbish / dumping? Like QA tech roles?

Machine Learning requires a LOT of data.

 

Possible Next Steps

In keeping with the altruistic side of this project – The next steps for this would be the following: –

  • Raise some funding
  • Talk to Planet Labs about getting the relevant data in a nonprofit situation
  • Talk to someone like Orbital Insights about whether the exact problem you’re working on is already solved or what steps are involved with automating the detection. and/or
  • Get volunteers to look at Planet images and try to identify dumping.
  • My friend also noted that drone surveys (wouldn’t be particularly expensive and might be able to find more information closer to the ground and in areas not easily seen by the satellites. This could also be used alongside satellites as a tandem / addition step in the process.)

Final Assessment

This has been a fascinating conclusion to an amazing project and the direction it has taken me from my initial plan of picking up rubbish (which became the Rubbishly App concept) to the development of the Earth Sight project. Earth Sight itself showed a long and challenging road to developing ML which can ‘read’ rubbish / visible pollution and begin to identify it and track it using daily earth spanning satellite ‘flocks’ such as the satellites offered by companies such as Planet.

All in all, I would say that my thought experiment has taken me further than I had initially expected. It has also laid out a course which relies on Baysean thinking, of which I am proud of in terms of applicable uses. However, as I am not a Computer Scientist, nor am I building any competitive teams and/or business to rival this already heavily competitve industry, I would be deterred to take this concept further. Nonetheless, it’s been an enjoyable thought experiment with real-world applications – which, with the right teams of people and a healthy amount of luck and openness to opportunities, would create a very interesting company / not-for-profit.

I would assess the value of such an organisation as quite high, with numerous applications – but with the central theme of anti-pollution and pollution tracking – it would be something of high value and applicable use. This use would most certainly be of use in terms of global anti-pollution initiatives and partnerships.

 

Conclusion

The satellite and space industries are ramping up on levels of competition and serious responses to pressing problems such as tracking pollution, soil erosion and other wasteful practices on the surface of the Earth. As the satellite and machine learning / visual analysis industries continue to grow and secure funding, this will become even more mainstream, to the point of being able to pinpoint polluting industry and habits, right to its very source. And from that point, real change can then be advocated, legislated for and enforced.

 

* Update 15th September 2018

The State of California, USA has made the quantum leap decision to get their own pollution tracking satellite (or namely, use of the Flock satellite planet wide network) in partnership with Planet – which is a wonderful and meaningful breakthrough in the field of pollution tracking. This further validates the Earth Sight concept as sets precedence for satellite pollution tracking use on a government scale.

Behavioural Science

Rubbishly

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Stopping Pollution with Rubbishly

How do we stop rubbish accumulating in the environment? How do we manage it? And most importantly, how do we change the narrative and social behaviours around the consumption of products and packaging, so that they don’t end up as pollution in our environment?

Here I’ve written up the rationale and use case behind the development of Rubbishly.

Rubbish is an epidemic

Living in South-East Asia makes it extremely easy to run into rubbish and polluting behaviours which are so open and visually there that you can’t help but be away of it. Years ago, travelling through the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, my friend and I were saddened and disgusted by the amount of rubbish lying around a waterfall in a national park area. I was viscearily annoyed, angry and frustrated. A smug superior side of me admonished “This wouldn’t slide in Australia!”. Years later, I came to understand that there were many factors involved as to why this waterfall was so trashed. And even later, I came to understand more about how these behaviours could be changed for lasting difference.

Ultimately, I understand that to tackle such a problem would require a long-term, multi-pronged push, on many levels of society in order to change littering behaviour. This included lobbying the support of government – local, state & federal, business & manufacturing, and consumers and locals. It sounded overwhelming, and indeed, global pollution – namely rubbish and plastic waste – is an epidemic affecting not just urban areas, but even the deepest parts of the most wild oceans.

Stats & information about plastic pollution

So let’s pull apart some information. Per capita consumption and production of waste in OECD countries continues to rise. And, as developing countries’ growing middle class begin to expect a higher standard of living, plastic and non-resuable waste is sure to grow.

However, this is not a set game, where it is an inevitability which cannot be curtailed. Production and consumption habits and behaviours can change – pollution can be dis-normalised – and still within perfectly acceptable ranges of living comfortably.

How could I make a difference?

After speaking to an accquaince who was dismayed to spend his kayaking trip around the Southern islands of Thailand “swimming with plastic”, I considered more about what could I do about this.

There’s a great deal of good rationale behind joining an already established community and network of organisations who are committed to tacking pollution. Volunteerism and helping to lobby and advocate for changes in laws and regulations works, as does consistent and long-term community awareness building and engagement in anti-littering / greener consumption habits.

I also had the strong urge to flex my ‘tinkering’ muscles and test out a particular concept – to see whether it might be a scalable part of the greater solution.

So I went to basics, took out a lot of variables and considered, what can a traveller with a smart phone do when confronted with a level of pollution around them that just picking up ‘one wrapper’ or can would not even make a dent.

What if we pinned out the pollution on a map? What if we used this to identify the scale of the problem, find where it’s coming from and within who’s jurasdiction it is?  Who’s making the mess, where is it migrating to and what can we do about it on a bigger scale?

Another interesting area which fascinated me was, can we teach machines to see and identify rubbish on a large scale? I left that question for another project to answer.

I was onto something here.

Let’s make an app where you can map the rubbish you see.

And let’s call it Rubbishly!

 

How Rubbishly Works

Rubbishly is a Social Enterprise Platform which leverages Google Maps in combatting littering & rubbish in our environment.

 

See rubbish – take a photo – ID the rubbish – pin drop on Google Maps – You’re done!

 

Combining conscious travellers with a useful App

You’re hiking and come across a waterfall. The waterfall is surrounded on all sides by bright, plastic rubbish. It’s in the water, caught between rocks and tangled in the undergrowth. There’s so much rubbish, you can’t pick it all up in one go.

Dismayed but determined to make a difference, you take out your phone, tap on the Rubbishly icon.

It activates your camera phone and you take photo(s) of the rubbish strewn around.

You then choose from a set of drop down choices on your best bet on what sort of rubbish it is; for example, ‘plastic waste’ or ‘hard rubbish’ (Only a few choices would be presented at first to make it easier to identify rapidly & without fuss.).

Then you pin on the next screen where you are (approximately) within a few meters of the rubbish. After pinning, the information is recorded on the database.

You can personally choose to pick up some of the rubbish, but you also know that you’ve documented the area in general as a problematic hotspot for rubbish and waste dumping. Now, something can be done about the overall problem.

Creating an MVP & User Case

User Case – People with high stakes expectations for a pristine environment.

It was apparent that from the get-go there was already a user case which would fit. All of the people whom I spoke to about rubbish in the environment were travellers or weekend hikers / campers. They expressed dismay over finding huge amounts of rubbish in the places & environments they were travelling to. Although making for an interesting story, they really wanted to see pristine nature.

Travellers and tourists are paying – sometimes a huge amount, compared to their annual income – for once-in-a-lifetime, life changing experiences in destinations around the world. They want to see picture perfect, pure vistas and environments. No matter if they are first time backpackers or seasoned resort travellers, essentially, everyone wants to explore stunning locations.

In the travel industry alone, the demographic mix of who travels and why is as varied and complex as can be. Sure, there are demographics who just want a smooth, relaxing holiday in an all-inclusive resort, not being too interested in deep-diving into the local culture and experiences. This can be compared to generally younger travellers, fascinated and excited by immersing themselves in another language, culture and living experience.

* And although I was only taking anecdotal conversations from the travellers around me, I surmised pretty quickly that absolutely no one wanted to be seeing obvious signs of pollution and waste. As much as someone may get used to it, it was something which everyone could do without (on similar levels as not wanting to catch a food bug). Seeing rubbish and trash in any environment is part of the experience which I have never heard any traveller say they wish there was more of.

Travellers are in the moment, experiencing these places in the now – and they are wholly invested in their visceral experiences. With this mindset, travellers could possibly be the most invested in bringing out their phone and doing something about pollution and rubbish as they see it – than, say a local who’s grown up used to seeing rubbish on a daily basis, or workers who are too busy to spend their time on such activities.

Rubbishly as a Tool for Action

Connecting a pain point (rubbish) to who can help (local council & waste management)

Question: If you couldn’t possibly clean up all the rubbish around you, could you instead photograph it, tag it on Google Maps & use that tag to alert waste management / council to come pick it up?

Engaging council and waste management companies: On the B2C side, it would be powered by user inputs – probably environmentally conscious travellers such as surfers, hikers & backpackers) on an App. On the B2B, it would be in partnerships / possibly even subscription service to councils, waste management groups and other organisations who would pay to know where rubbish is, to either remove it, process it, dump it or recycle it.

With these sets of initial assumptions, next was to get real world feedback.

Gathering Feedback & Engagement Levels

Don’t build anything until you’ve got real, engaged feedback from your target demographic(s).

I could have gone further into analytics, gauging interest levels through AB testing ads for Rubbishly on Facebook etc, but I went straight to asking people in my target demographic, and the answers I got were exactly what I needed to hear.

Target Demographic

The target demographic I spoke to (travellers in foreign countries) were very happy to talk about this and seemed genuinely interested & excited to get in on using Rubbishly. They offered suggestions and additions to the app. I had a few people sign up for the Beta when it would be released, so that was a good sign.

Council

I spoke to a representative of a local council in Melbourne, Australia – they stated that using such software to alert to dumped waste is a very viable concept, and that examples of using such software by council and parks workers themselves has been trialled in a few metropolitan and urban areas in some cases around the world. The representative noted that having an app like this open to the public use – and connected to the council waste management response teams could be a viable idea to further explore. The representative couldn’t comment with experience on countries and cities which were considered ‘developing’, however it was stated that, with proper council connection and engagement with the local community, such an app could act as a connecting platform and tool for further action.

Waste Management

In an email conversation with a small paper waste management company, they noted that this sort of tool could be useful in areas which were under their contract jurisdiction. It could be possible to be used as an alert tool for their clients – i.e. alerting when a particular waste skip needed emptying. This could prove useful especially if a particular client’s skip bin didn’t fill up entirely within a stated weekly sweep of that area by the waste companies’ recycling rubbish trucks, which would then help to conserve fuel and resources by only triggering the call out for disposal when the skip(s) were completely full.

Designing Rubbishly: Business & Product

Challenges

Respecting the UX Process

I tried to turn it into a very simple procedure. Engaging with a User Experience professional would most likely allow these steps to become somewhat automated or to assist in making each step seemless and quick – which could add a degree of gamification to the task.

Gamification in the Real World

And of course, there’s also a bigger direction this could go. Such as re-working the entire project into a gamified ‘adventure’ of hunting for rubbish, much like Niantic’s 2016 Pokemon Go game where you hunt for Pokemon overlayed in the real world, but with real-world benefits.

Machine Learning to ‘see’ Rubbish

Considering Machine Learning in Image Recognition & Tagging

Image recognition is a massive challenge for ML.

And, with many millenials, the idea of creating a massive startup with pays dividends WHILE helping the world in general is a positive boon to thinking. I can assure you, there have been times where I have allowed myself to daydream about creating such an amazing unicorn and startup which makes the world a better place – stating that on my own deathbed, I’ve done my part in saving the world as we know it.

A simple overlay on Google Maps – where you can use the geolocation and pin drop ability of Google Maps, to pin point areas of pollution, waste and areas where there is mess and confusion over the cleanlieness of an area. The pin drop can also be added to a photographic part (i.e take a photograph of the pollution/waste) Using machine learning (photo recognition) – the machine learning AI finds this picture – and with the added part of adding from a drop down menu exactly ‘what’ that particular piece of pollution or waste is (say bin rubbish dumped on the side of a road – or strange chemically smelling yellow foam over a pond) then the machine learning continues to build a visual map of what ‘rubbish’ and ‘waste’ looks, acts and smells like.

Over time, this – along with the data input from likeminded and eco minded people dropping pins over the Google map, the machine learning starts to build its lexicon of what pollution looks like – and then begins to track, find, pinpoint and track it in general. This can be anything from finding thrown out waste from households dumped on the side of the road to spills and other chemical wastage put into natural ecosystems.

Then, the overlay interaction on either a B2B marketplace of waste contract removers, government & council, eco-authorities and other groups who have a standing interest in tracking, mapping, treating & disposing of waste.

This is then used to help in a very direct way – the identification, tracking & safe disposal of wastes around the world.

Google may eventually buy the idea, the startup platform may be integrated with Google Maps as either an add-on or an extra ‘type’ of pin to drop in any given space (i.e. looking at Google Place could even be a very good way to get these parts of pollution in the visual eye and get them being looked at).

So, all I need, is a coder to create this platform – with the focus of putting it into a Google platform and ensuring that it is picked up by a large mapping program/platform/social media organisation.

In the end – the goal is to ensure that the global mapping of pollution and waste is fully tracked on first our solid land and later in our air and in the waters, for citizen ‘pollution trackers’ working hand-in-hand with Machine Learning and AI to focus on the most visual and able to focus on issue of global warming, habitat destruction and threats to health – pollution and waste.

 

Next Steps = Partnerships

Partnering with Councils, Local Government & Waste Management Companies

Ultimately, an app alone will not make much of a change. I could spend my time creating a working, user friendly and smooth API with the hopes of gaining traction on app stores and within social media communities. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

However, what makes changes which are far reaching and which last involve connecting and creating heavy stakeholder involvement with many many areas of society, and to work from within – using both carrot and stick approaches – to make the correct legislative, infrastructure, business and culture behaviour changes.

If I sat down and worked out where Rubbishly fit in the greater story of our global pollution epidemic, and if I spoke to enough people to get a stronger grasp of the complexities behind rubbish creation, management & tolerance, then I would have a better understanding of how to get my app to fit in a place and within a network which helped to make long-term, lasting changes for the better.

Some things I could do next:

  • Keep talking to user bases (travellers, travel bloggers and travel groups on Facebook, Instagram etc).
  • Engage a team of developers to begin piecing together my functional wireframe and platform diagrams into a single operating system, bare-bones working MVP working with Google Maps for semi-accurate pinning & an image database.
  • Choose a specific example to test out the app in field, to see whether it works.
  • Consider the greater strategy of where Rubbishly fits – both as a concept in a larger story, and as an app.

Something as flashy as using machine learning to parse the images would be something I would discuss with friends in the programming, ML industries, but ML itself would be something I would consider down the track, only once the concept is proved as robust and funding can be raised to develop the imaging ML for it (which is no mean feat).

 

Multi-Level Solutions for a Complex Problem

Building an understanding of the Lifecycle of Rubbish in our Environment

Since the 80’s, people have created a pretty detailed understanding of the rubbish / trash lifecycle. And for a long time, sustained efforts to curb littering and dumping of rubbish, in favour of a ‘closed loop’ of manufacturing, consumption and waste management has been filtered down from law to personal shopping choices. However, it’s still not enough to think you can teach something once and expect permanent, long-lasting behaviour change. Emerging markets and developing countries need to go through the same processes of creating such water-tight loops with both carrot and stick approaches over a consistent and ongoing basis. So, the challenges are complex and ongoing – nothing that Rubbishly will ‘cure’, but still adding to the overall tides of behaviour change.

Rubbishly is an concept which can go so much further than I’ve so far taken it. It’s not copyrighted or held to any patents (well, I couldn’t patent it anyway). Personally, I’d prefer the concept to be copied and used by many, competing groups & organisations. Because healthy competition in the areas of eliminating pollution is the best use of market competition!

Ultimately, Rubbishly was a test, but show what other groups are doing

Some Examples

Litterati is an app which works on Personal habits & picking up rubbish when you see it, controlling littering behaviours with friends & family.

Clean Up Australia Day is an annual national event which has been running for decades. It encourages awareness about litter and to grow national pride in the Australian environment by picking up litter and discouraging the act of littering and dumping.

Across Europe and in some American cities, rubbish ‘water wheels’, such as the Baltimore’s solar powered ‘Mr. Trash Water Wheel’. And on a large, international scale, the ground breaking The Ocean Cleanup is taking this concept large scale.

Laws and Enforceable Regulation

As wonderful as private and not for profit efforts at cleaning up the environment, changing state and country legislation to outlaw use of certain high risk materials and process in manufacturing and usage, packaging materials and the way in which business can conduct business within governing territories. Allowing for enforceable fines for illegal dumping, using restricted materials and processes is key to eliminating wasteful behaviours.

 

Change the Narrative = Make Change

Ultimately, changing the narrative about plastics in industry, daily life and the environment is the greater way in which we’ll move the needle on the issue of plastic-based pollutants and polluting behaviours. As simplified as I can make this – in one non-in depth article – is that we have to make plastic as uncool as possible. Not using plastic and seeking alternatives must not only become highly fashionable, but also be easily accessible to all – a level of equality in purchasing power and in decision-making.

So, what can you do about breaking the cycle of pollution?

Localised

On the personal, localised level, you can play your part in changing the relationship with waste and littering. A few relatively simple behaviour changes – although technically a drop in the global ocean of change, is still a valuable & noble contribution.

These behaviour changes include: –

  • At home; Drink tap water. If you wish to buy a filter machine / container, then that’s a plus too.
  • At work / university; Bringing a reuasble coffee / tea cup or thermos. Many inner-city cafes will even offer discounts if you bring your own reusable travel coffee cup. Bring a reusable water bottle / thermos to refill as you need.
  • Shopping; Use your consumer power while shopping. Bring reusable shopping bags with you – even if you live in a country where plastic bags are still in use. Buy less plastic wrapped items, for example, go for an unwrapped hand of bananas instead of plastic wrapped bananas. Buying metal / glass reusable items such as food containers and straws – although it does add a small amount of extra cleaning time, instills the habit that plastic waste is not the first choice to make. Shopping at farmers markets is also helpful. Voting with your wallet, as well as communicating to companies via social media is absolutely a way to make your voice heard.
  • Outside; Bring a rubbish bag with you and always clean up after a picnic or BBQ or camping trip. Take up a habit of collecting rubbish when going on nature walks – it’s healthy & can become a fun feel-good hobby.
  • Community & Events; Joining events such as Beach or park clean up days, in Australia, volunteering on the annual Clean Up Australia Day is always a fun, community driven and feel-good event.
  • Finding apps such as Rubbishly, Litterati and other where you can alert others to rubbish and waste which you may not be able to clean up yourself.
  • Lead by example. Use re-usable materials and packaging when hosting parties & events. You don’t have to actively push this on others, hopefully they pick up on unconscious queues about this, but it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that you’re trying ‘to go greener’ by making these small purchasing choices. It may help to nudge others who are on the fence behaviourally about it all – though I recommend holding back on smugness, that never got me anywhere personally – that’s for sure.

 

Globally

Organisations need to change their practices.

Not all plastic is created equally. Manufacturing changes towards green processes and biodegradable materials is usually considered as expensive changes – which can eat into the profit margins of traditional business models. However, technology and to cost ratio of adopting biodegradable plastics and reducing non-degradable plastics into business processes is completely doable. It is more a change of culture which is required, which can drive the right change.

Lobbying local, state and federal government is also a useful practice. Citizens have the right to contact their representatives. This also helps government get a gauge of changing expectations and desires of the citizenry, which in turn influences policy and decision-making over time & with consistent effort. At this level, it may be recommended to join / become a member of local organisations which are doing similar work. Strength in numbers, so to speak.

Research has gone into creating new forms of biodegradable plastics.

Methods of converting plastics into fuels, or baseline manufacturing materials is also available.

 

Final Thoughts

I found Rubbishly to be a challenging and interesting project which answered a single problem in the global fight against pollution. It could, on uptake, become an adaptable concept which helps to focus on illegal rubbish and waste management. I could see multiple uses for such a map pinning platform, for use by an end user / consumer as well as in B2B and government applications. It may even be a useful tool in the changing of community perceptions around rubbish and waste in the environment in developing or particularly polluted areas of the world.

Upon speaking to others, this was a generally well received concept with almost limitless areas for growth. Further research has shown that this issue is being tackled by a large amount of companies and organisations. And I would see it being used more in the future – mapping areas of concern and ensuring timely resolution by the appropriate waste management service. It can also expand to helping to pinpoint the sources of pollution in a given area and become a tool to be used in community awareness and advocay organisations on the ground.

Overall, Rubbishly is a great concept, and I enjoyed making it. I’ve learned a large amount, especially in stakeholder engagement and consultation.

The tide against pollution is slowly shifting. At this moment, these shifts are so small, it may seem like an impossible challenge to fight. But I will remain optimistic that positive change is happening and will only compound with time.

Compound Interest

Leveraging Compound Interest in Good Things

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“In the simple mathematics of compound interest, if we deposit money in the bank at a given rate of interest and then return this interest to the existing principle, our money does not grow in a simple linear fashion. Rather, the interest added to principle accumulates still more interest through a positive feedback mechanism, causing the principle to grow at an accelerating rate through time – that is, exponentially.”

 

– Daniel Rigney ‘The Matthew Effect: How Advantage Begets Further Advantage’

 

There are two main drivers for basic humanity – the push towards pleasure and the pull away from pain. Having money – and by extension, the assurance of a buffer against unforeseen situations and events – is a pleasure. Examining your financial situation – and acknowledging less than ideal financial situations – is a pain. For better or for worse, it can be much easier to hide from the concept of ‘compounding interest’ than it is to acknowledge it – both from the aspect of pleasure and a point of pain.

It’s part of this perceived pain / pleasure effect, paired with the abstract nature of money and finance, and finally coupled by the human tendency to be lazy (perhaps further affected if there’s a degree of forgetfulness and  avoidance about the issue).

However, ignoring and avoiding such a powerful principle as compound interest can put an individual, her family and even whole companies and countries at risk. Because, just as something can compound upwards, it can most probably compound downwards. And, even if you aren’t interest in making something compound and grow (such as a compound interest savings account), you should at least be in the position to appreciate avoiding negative (or downwards) compounding factors. An example of this is especially high interest debt such as credit card debt. What seems like minimum repayments on seemingly free money can very quickly slip into a years long fight against paying off ever compounding interest amounts in order to get around to repaying the original debt (which is lost in the balloon of compounded interest on the initial sum).

Let’s look at compound interest. This is so we can learn to look at it from a position of knowledge and the right mindset to steer the course of compound interest sin your favour.

 

The Absurd Probability of You Being Here

But first, a little on the sheer luck of you being here.

On the most morbid of statistical assumptions, you should not even exist. Especially as anything more complex than a mote of carbon-hydrogen compounds in this vast universe. The chances of being born as a sentient human on this Earth is phenomenal. Congrats! You’ve already beaten the odds.

Surviving and thriving are different ends of a spectrum, and in today’s complex world (and with the assumptions I am making via knowing you are reading this paragraph), I would surmise that you are a very very lucky human, compared to others (fluent English comprehension correlates to a certain level of economic success).

A long line of successful biological evolutions and personal growth and development has brought you to this exact moment in time.

You’ve already achieved so much. Is there now anything you should worry about?

Obviously, to bring such metaphysical questions back to reality, yes of course we all, as individuals and collectively, have a great deal to be worrying about. Life is not static, and we are constantly riding the balances between growth and decline, challenge and rest, cycles, rhythms, chance encounters and unknowable events.

Nothing is ever guaranteed. To know the future(s) itself is impossible. We can only do our best to understand the past and present, and to model to these probabilities as best as possible in order to attempt to understand the future and what it may bring.

If nothing in life is guaranteed, then why worry about Investing in your future?

Well yes, nothing really is ever ‘guaranteed’, which can bring about a great deal of anxiety. That’s why insurance companies make a lot of money – they are selling a ‘guarantee’ in some form, the assurance of whatever you are looking for to give you ‘peace of mind’. And indeed, although a lot of insurance may make a great deal of sense, there are also areas (individually factored) where the insurance is not necessary, or it won’t help. Sometimes, for better or worse, the insurance clauses makes the process of insurance a wasteful or ultimately useless endeavour.

But, when we start looking into probability, we see where some things which do add up, and help to make something more probable, more guaranteed – than not.

Your probability of succeeding in something usually increases when you chip away at it, or add bit by bit to something, continuously and consistently. Over a period of time, that’s where you will really start to see change occurring, and usually for the better.

 

Exponential Doubling

Let’s first get the fantasy of having everything you want growing forever at an almost impossible rate, out of the way. In mathematics, this concept is called ‘Exponential Doubling’.

In your wildest imaginations, you could want things like your money to just double in a day, grow seemingly endlessly until you become the richest person in the world, or the universe! So let’s break down exponential doubling, how it works and ultimately why this sort of growth can only exist in the realm of fantasy.

The Wise Man and the King | Rice on a Chessboard Problem

One day, a great King decided to reward a wise man for his lifelong service to his kingdom. He asked what the wise man wanted as a reward.

The wise man replied, “I simply want a grain of rice on this first square of this 64 square chessboard today. Tomorrow, I want double the amount from the first square placed on the second square of this chessboard, and on the next day, double the amount from the second square onto the third square – and for this to continue doubling, until every square is filled in 64 day’s time – that’s all I request your majesty.”

The king initially laughed at this, doing a few calculations – 1, 2, 4, 8, 16… – , and thinking, ‘this wise man won’t even end up with a bowl of rice by the end of this!’

It wasn’t until he had ordered this to be done, that within a week, the king began to worry.

If he had one grain of rice on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth and so on, how many grains of rice would the wise man have by the time the chess board is full (64 squares in total).

The beginning of the rice on squares will then start small, but grow at a doubling rate incredibly quickly.

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16,384, 32,768, 65,536, 131,072, 262,144, 524,288, 1,048,576, 2,097,152

The maths function for exponential doubling can be written as: y = 2²

In 22 days, the old man would have all of these amounts of rice, added together! Imagine at day 64. He would own all the rice in the kingdom and more. It just wouldn’t have been possible for the king to give the wise man what he requested. The king quickly apologised and asked if there was something else he could gift. The wise man relented and asked to marry one of the king’s daughters, to which the relived king agreed to and everyone* had a happy ending.

(*As problematic as that sounds.)

This is a mathematical problem which highlights compound interest with the process of ‘Exponential Doubling’. It also shows how, for reasons of economic instability (amongst other things), exponential doubling doesn’t really happen (or, not for long) in business and economy.

Exponential Doubling has Natural Checks & Balances

These are examples of exponential doubling. Now, being able to be in real life examples of exponential doubling may be harder to come by, and there would be a lot of checks and balances coming in to somehow halt you and any other biological system from taking full advantage of exponential doubling (bacteria which rapidly grows in ideal conditions would quickly overwhelm resources, and would experience a die off).

People, Economies and even biological systems won’t let you play this game – or, at least not for very long – before checks and balances come in and crush your dream of owning the whole world in a matter of months. It’s a fantasy, a fun maths exercise and altogether not realistic.

So, let’s instead turn our attention to the next best thing – a process which (in the current economic model) can be sustainable and still provide growth. Compound Interest.

 

Compound Interest | in a Nutshell

Compound interest begins growing something at the rate of the agreed point, and compounded at an annual rate. It’s not as ridiculously exponential as exponential doubling, but it’s the next best thing.

Compound interest as a principle can be expressed in a simple formula. The most common version of this formula, especially when looking at the example of money and calculating interest rates on something such as your savings account (assuming the savings account is a compound interest account), is seen below.

 

Image | thecalculatorsite.com

 

Where,

P = principle amount (the initial amount you borrow or deposit)

r = annual rate of interest (as a decimal)

t = number of years the amount is deposited or borrowed for

A = amount of money accumulated after n years, including interest

n =number of times the interest is compounded per year

 

Applying this Principle to your Savings

When you are to compound, say $100 at the rate of 5% for a year, at the end of the year, you will be left with $102.73.

Doesn’t sound so exciting? Well, what if we let this continuously compound over again for 10 years?

That will come out to $163. Still doesn’t sound like a lot?

Well, let’s keep adding $10o a year to that amount, and by the end of 10 years, you’ve got $1,484. That’s make $384 out of nowhere from the money you’ve saved and contributed.

Again, the magic of compound interest doesn’t really start showing itself until you continue to contribute, and allow more time to occur.

Putting $1000 into compound interest at 5% for 20 years, and adding $100 per year into that account nets you $6,126. If you only put $2900 into the whole enterprise, then that means $3226 is your windfall – starting to sound interesting now?

Well, how about $1000 into compound interest at 5% for 20 years, adding $100 monthly into this account?

That’s going to come out as $42,346 at the end of the period. Imagine putting this little nest egg away, with some automated transactions to ensure you’re putting that $100 a month away, and voila, $42,346 at the end of the road.

Compound Interest Calculator | Nerd Wallet

Now we’re talking!

 

The Joy of Compound Interest

The wonderful things about this principle, is that it can be applied to more things than just a savings account. Although life is very complex and messy, if you apply the resolve and consistency of compound interest to a particular area of interest, then you can make that particular thing also compound.

Things that compound – Healthy teeth over your lifetime

Some easy ideas of compound interest can start with this example; if you brush your teeth properly twice daily, you have a better chance of keeping your teeth in better shape than if you don’t. Congratulations, you’ve moved the needle in your favour. If you add a dietary choice to avoid sugary products, eat majority greens, whole grains and avoid heavily processed foods, and avoid smoking and heavy drinking, then you are most likely going to compound the value and quality of your teeth over time. Add in regular dental checks, and there is then a much higher guarantee of maintaining good teeth into your old age. All this, as opposed to someone who didn’t let these factors ‘compound’ though out the period of your life.

Things that compound – Useful Knowledge & Skills

As a young human mind develops, there comes a time to enter into formal educational settings. It’s generally accepted that the act and process of learning helps to grow knowledge about an area, and that if you apply the same, consistent forcus and energy on learning about something, your knowledge, skill and mastery of a certain thing will grow. This can be seen in the field of mathematics. From a very foundational standpoint, you must learn your 1, 2, 3’s. These beginning points then lead, in an ever upward trajectory, into larger and more complex fields of mathematical knowledge. Fractions, algebra, probability, trigonometry, statistics, calculus and so on.

However, you can’t just jump straight into learning about quadratic equations until you have gone through and gathered a strong understanding of the previous foundational mathematical principles. Maths is a body of knowledge where you have to start at the beginning. There’s no shortcut, and your understanding only compounds as you learn and master each area, before you can progress to the next.

Things that compound – Good Habits

Similarly, good habits such as daily exercise, getting to bed early so you wake up fully rested the next day, and a skincare routine which involves sunscreen, are all things which fight against general physical, mental and emotional decline as you age, keeping you healthy, limber and energetic. These routines and activities compound the more consistently you do them. Your body adapts and becomes more fit, healthier and more energetic the more you take care of it.

 

The Dangers of Compound Interest

“Compound interst is interest on interest, and it can make a dramatic difference in the value of your investments. As financiers often say, those who don’t understand compound interest are doomed to pay it.”

 

– Ann C. Logue ‘Hedge Funds for Dummies’

When Debt Compounds

This of course also applies to money and finance. Ignoring bills and failing to make loan repayments on time, underestimating high interest credit card debt, to the absolute ‘scam-like’ and dangerous practices such as ‘pay day’ loans and loan sharks. Once a situation get out of hand, it can continue to spiral until all your resources and security is taken away from you.

Debt, however, is inherently riskier because the future is unpredictable. A debtor who borrows from his future income to buy a house – courtesy of the savings borrowed, in turn, by a bank from its depositors, and then lent to the debtor in the form of a mortgage – does not know with certainty that he will earn enough money to be able to pay off his mortgage, because nobody can know the future with certainty. In contrast, if he were able to pay for the house in cash, he would be drawing on funds that he knows for a fact he has already saved. Likewise a banker who, courtesy of her depositors and bond holders, borrows from the bank’s future income to buy a mortgage-backed security. She does not know for a fact that her investment will pay off.

It’s important to note here, most things really are out of your control. Natural disasters, economic downturns and events which can be called ‘bad luck’ can and will happen. These are the ‘uncontrollable’ factors.

 

Paying off debt takes more effort than making profit – at compounding rates

“Paying off a given amount of debt will require the same amount of work (in the future) as it took, in the past, to accumulate the same amount of savings – more work, actually, since the debtor must pay interest to the saver for the loan. Neither borrowing nor lending is inherently  good or inherently bad, or inherently lazy or ambitious.”

Conversely, if you don’t do such things as exercise, eating healthy, get consistently good quality sleep and make poor decisions, the principle of compound interest starts to work naturally against you. These factors, including illness and injury, can compound a decline in health and wellbeing in a steady downwards curve.

 

Compounding The Cycle of Poverty

“We’re even wrong about which mistakes we’re making.” – Carl Winfield

Because the magic of the principle of compound interest is seen more over time (and with more time, the more compound interest you see), people can then become very short-sighted about decision making – to the point where they make decisions accounting for immediate and probably irrational or unnecessary choices – in the heat of the moment, or disregarding the long-term, compounding consequences over time. Fingers crossed, we’re all going to be living long lives, so thinking in this way is pragmatic and probably better in the long run.

 

Avoiding Making Compounding Mistakes

“That mistakes are never made, that nothing is really accidental, is also the default theory of popular politics: major problems aren’t caused by human error; instead, some self-interested person or cabal must be at fault – special interests, lobbyists, or, indeed, greedy bankers. Mistakes don’t fit into standard economic and political models, because standard economic and political models take ignorance out of the human equation.

 

– Jeffrey Friedman “What Caused the Financial Crisis”

 

I would take a little bit from the special interests and lobbyists for sure, influencing outcomes is a factor. However I agree that sheer stupidity, ineptitude, corruption and ignorance are major driving factors.

We live in an ever more interconnected world. In my opinion, within healthy (and constantly revised and audited) regulation, a more interconnected world gives us the inherent “carrot” of everyone being able to access the some levels of wealth and thriving, and also from the “stick” end, stops large groups / organisations from either causing dangerous behaviours or ruining it for others – as we are all vested in our interests to get along with one another.

 

The Principle Harnessed | Grow What Matters

“To be sure, borrowing could not happen without lending, and thus saving; but just as lenders are rewarded for their past savings by borrowers, borrowers are rewarded for their future earnings by lenders. There is nothing undesirable about either side of this transaction.”

 

– Jeffrey Friedman, Richard A. Posner ‘What Caused the Financial Crisis’

 

Q) In Your Life, What do you WANT to Compound? What DON’T you want to compound?

There’s an activity I’d like you to try out. It’s a simple two column exercise. Write the above sentence on the top of a piece of paper and make two columns, one labeled “want to compound” and the other “don’t want to compound”.

An example can look like this:

 

 

Now, after you’ve looked at the ‘want’ and ‘don’t’ columns, you can start to make actionable changes to makes these things happen (or to ensure they don’t).

 

Parting Note

Some people may argue that they’re not going to live for that long – and although that may actually happen, the odds are, you’ll live longer than you think. So, what’s a little bit of initial money, and a different mindset going to do to ruin your day? It sounds painful to start, but after, you’ll feel a rush of satisfaction, trust me. That’s great, so congratulate yourself and go on with your day knowing that now, compound interest is there working for you quietly in the background.