Harnessing citizen science to tackle urban and coastal ocean plastic pollution

Project Details


There is an almost total absence of city-scale data on plastic pollution, largely because of the challenge of street-level data collection across an entire city. We will work in partnership with citizen scientists, initially in Portsmouth, then scaling up, to determine the distribution, volume, type and, potentially, sources of urban plastic pollution, in order to inform action to reduce plastic reaching the ocean from cities. To achieve this, we will connect the existing Jetsam app​, which allows citizens to collect visual and location data about plastic in the environment, to the ​Zooniverse global crowd-sourced image analysis platform. Zooniverse is hosted by the University of Portsmouth and is, therefore, not considered as a separate collaborator. Although Jetsam can be used to capture plastic pollution data anytime, we will initiate a programme of city-wide plastic pollution surveys involving roughly 200 citizen scientists recruited through a dedicated engagement campaign. We believe this rolling city-survey programme will be the first of its kind in the world. It will: 1) test the effectiveness of data collection and analysis tools; 2) increase direct citizen engagement in anti-plastic pollution action; and 3) use the evidence base generated to inform practical interventions by city authorities and, ultimately, citizens to reduce plastic leakage to the ocean. Interventions may include targeted plastic use reduction and disposal campaigns, working with specific organisations to reduce their plastic leakage; along with better placement of plastics recycling points. We will seek to engage directly with citizen scientists to build their capacity to offer leadership on plastic reduction actions within their communities, including potentially through the ocean plastic literacy course [see proposal 2]. Based on the pollution surveys in Portsmouth, a guide and associated materials will be developed to scale up the approach for delivery in other cities in the UK and beyond.

Layperson's description

The MAPP project will use citizen science to determine the distribution, volume, type and, potentially, sources of urban plastic pollution, in order to inform action to reduce plastic reaching the ocean from cities. The project is a collaboration between the Revolution Plastics team at the University of Portsmouth and Jetsam Tech Ltd, who have developed a mobile application allowing users to take geotagged photographs of plastic waste. The location data from these photographs can be used to generate a map of plastic litter.

We will ask Portsmouth residents to participate in a programme of 5 city-wide plastic surveys. We will then work with the community (including the public, local business, and civic bodies) to analyse and identify patterns in the data, potentially identifying pollution hotspots, sources and common types of litter. We will then work with the community to co-design interventions to alleviate the plastic problem in the city. We believe this project is the first of its kind in the world and once the methodology has been developed it has the potential to be used in cities across the world to tackle the global plastic problem.
Short titleMapping Portsmouth's Plastic
Effective start/end date1/07/2130/06/22

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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