Drones are helping to tackle the world's trash problem

Published 3:12 AM ET, Wed June 23, 2021
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Today, we produce about 300 million tons of plastic every year, and at least 8 million tons end up in our oceans. Technology could help to turn the tide of plastic pollution and inform solutions. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
UK-based startup Ellipsis Earth uses drones to map trash around the world, gathering data that can inform policymakers on potential solutions. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
Ellipsis has developed software that uses image recognition to identify the type of plastic. The company says it's able to automatically detect 47 categories of trash items with more than 95% accuracy. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
Ellie Mackay, CEO and founder of Ellipsis, is a qualified drone pilot. She's traveled around the world gathering data on trash. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
One project took her to the shores of the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific ocean, roughly 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Here, she was shocked to find vast evidence of plastic pollution, despite the remote nature of the islands and their few inhabitants. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
Mackay tells CNN that data gathered on one beach in the Galapagos found that you are never more than 43 centimeters (17 inches) away from a piece of trash. This information helped influence a decision by Galapagos authorities to ban Styrofoam takeaway containers and plastic bags across the archipelago, she says. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
Ellipsis has also mapped trash on the banks of the Ganges river in India. The data gathered showed where the waste was coming from as well as where it ended up, helping to drive behavior change and policy. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
A project in Sorrento, Italy, sponsored by the country's Ministry of Environment and a tobacco brand, surveyed cigarette littering in the city. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
The data Ellipsis collected informed city officials on the best places to position ashtrays and trash cans across the city. According to Ellipsis, the campaign led to a 70% reduction in cigarette littering. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
Ellipsis is currently surveying plastic pollution in the busy seaside town of Bournemouth, UK. The project will compare data collected earlier this year -- when tight lockdown restrictions were in place -- to the summer months, when more visitors descend on the town. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd
It will use the data to inform the local council of trash hotspots, so that the city can provide extra bins or alter street cleaning schedules. Courtesy Ellipsis Earth Ltd