Plastic Pollution is a pervasive and global issue. 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics are
estimated to have been produced since the 1950s. While the production of plastic products
has grown exponentially, today only 9% is recycled. Inefficient recycling systems and
chemical compositions that limit decomposition create new problems for our planet and our
health — we see plastics on our beaches, in our oceans, and in the stomachs of animals and
people (UN Environment). While many agencies and citizen scientists collect data through
activities including beach clean-ups, there is a need for coordination between different data
sources to understand plastic pollution at local, national and global scales. Further, different
stakeholders, including the general public and federal agencies, need to more easily
understand how pollution quantity and type varies by location and where different types of
pollution might come from. On the citizen level, such accessible information is important for
education and behavior change. On the government level, information is needed to manage
resources, set policies, and contribute to our international agreements, like reporting
America’s progress against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Why this problem matters: Ocean plastics directly impact more than 800 species
world-wide. Further, because plastics never completely degrade, microplastics in the
environment threaten human as well as environmental health. Participation in citizen science
shows that the public clearly cares. Citizen scientists do not always stay engaged and keep
sharing data over time. In addition, citizen science volunteers do not always have access to
contextual information on why plastic might be there and what they can do. The lack of data
on plastics pollution and related information prevents citizen scientists and the public policy
community from fully understanding the extent of the problem and making informed choices
to reduce the growing threat of plastic pollution to human and environmental health.

From TOP Problem Statement


The Ghost Gear Project was created by Lucas Chu, Kenneth Zhang, Alyssa Chen, Sophie Webster, and Dyuti Pandya for the Census Open Innovation Lab's Opportunity Project university sprint as part of the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics' STEAM program. To learn more about the Opportunity Project and the STEAM program, visit https://opportunity.census.gov/ and https://iop.harvard.edu/get-involved/steam