The scale of the problem
Evidence Plastic CIC was founded by Rob Martindale, a keen surfer who had witnessed the impact that plastics pollution was having on the beaches of Cornwall and was alarmed by the media reports on the worldwide effect on our seas. Rob Martindale explains:
“Every day more than 8 million pieces of plastic find their way into our oceans. Most of this waste ends up on beaches around the world, whilst the remainder is taken out into the deep ocean. The incoming tide washes waste to the beach, then the retreating tide can pull it back into the sea. That means that twice a day we are potentially missing the opportunity to recover plastic waste from the tide line.”
The Tidal Revival app
With a background in product development and design engineering, Rob decided to take action. Innovative thinking led to the creation of the Tidal Revival app which was launched in 2018. The app is designed to encourage more people to pick up plastic the next time they visit their local beach. But it also fulfils another crucial role – giving people the ability to record details on the plastic waste they have collected which can then be used to create a valuable database to measure and monitor the scale of the problem. Rob says:
“Tidal Revival works by asking app users to record how much plastic they have picked up from a beach, detail the type of plastic found, and also upload an image of it to the app. They are also expected to dispose of the plastic they find responsibly. A built-in GPS is used to verify the location. The app users who participate can earn reward points which they can use to get discounts at local outlets such as cafes, shops and restaurants. We currently have more than 20 local businesses signed up as sponsors.
“Our technology has worldwide potential and, in fact, is already being used at locations in the USA, Germany and the Balearic Islands.”
The company needed help with developing and improving the app and at this point they engaged with the Marine-i project who helped with business assistance, signposting to funding and, crucially, introduced them to the specialists in this area at University of Plymouth, a partner in the Marine-i project.
University of Plymouth International Marine Litter Research Unit
The University of Plymouth has been at the forefront of research in this area for over 15 years and in November 2019, it was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its ground-breaking research and policy impact on microplastics pollution in the oceans.
The honour, the highest that can be bestowed upon a higher education institution, recognises the world-leading enquiry by Plymouth researchers, led by Professor Richard Thompson OBE, which has resulted in repeated scientific breakthroughs and influenced national and international legislation.
In 2004, the University of Plymouth team was the first to reveal the widespread occurrence of microscopic particles of plastic debris at the sea surface and on shorelines. To describe these minute pieces, Prof Richard Thompson OBE coined the term “microplastics.”
The unit’s work has shown that microplastic debris now contaminates shorelines worldwide. They are present in substantial quantities even in remote locations such as the deep ocean and the Arctic.
University of Plymouth International Marine Litter Research Unit has published numerous scientific papers and reports on this topic, has advised governments and international organisations worldwide and continues to research not only the extent of the problem, but also the solutions.
Prof Richard Thompson OBE commented: “The Tidal Revival app from Evidence Plastic CIC is an innovative idea which could play an important part in documenting plastic pollution in the marine environment – and so potentially help drive change. We have been delighted to help with its development. This is a great example of the kind of entrepreneurial thinking and collaboration we need to help us address this global issue.”
Getting maximum value from the Tidal Revival data
Rob says: “The database from the Tidal Revival app is made available to academic researchers and policy makers to help bring about positive change. The University of Plymouth team have provided support by detailing how the Tidal Revival app should record the waste collected by beach cleaners, so that it can be categorised and combined with existing databases.
The use of citizen science beach clean data within scientific literature is sparse with very few scientific papers utilising such data. However, one recent study (Neims et al, 2017) has synthesised data collected by the Marine Conservation Society and was able to draw a number of conclusions. The study reported that plastic was the most prevalent material found as beach litter. It also highlighted that the abundance of litter varies by region and that the composition of litter varied over time (analysing data over a decade). This study indicates how beach clean data collected by citizen scientists can potentially serve as an effective tool for scientific publication.
The most widely used marine litter app currently in use is the Marine Debris Tracker, which has logged nearly 1 million items globally and is active in 46 countries. The Marine Debris Tracker does not have its own means of classification. Instead, app users log individual marine litter items according to categories from existing beach clean protocols such as OSPAR, Ocean Conservancy or NOAA.
Through their in-depth knowledge of the subject and their analysis of existing databases and apps, the team from University of Plymouth International Marine Litter Research Unit were able to provide recommendations on how to approach categorisation within the Tidal Revival app.
Rob adds: “The data collected through the app will help the scientific community answer some critical questions such as: What is the scale of the problem? What are the most commonly found types of plastics? It is important to recognise that the categorisation keeps changing and evolving as more data is recorded. Over time, this growing database can be used to monitor the problem and assess the effectiveness of remedial actions. This expert input from the University of Plymouth team will also ensure that the database accessible for non-expert users, which an important factor in keeping the wider public involved in this area.”
The future for the Tidal Revival app
Rob Martindale’s vision is that the Tidal Revival app will generate a global following and will be seen as the essential app to have if you live, work or play by the sea. He says:
“Tidal Revival will grow through partnerships all around the world, with motivated people connecting with their local businesses and communities to establish the app as a useful tool in tackling coastal plastic pollution wherever it is found. While there is still plastic litter in our oceans, we want the Tidal Revival reward scheme to be as widely used as a credit card or cash in our coastal communities.
“We are very grateful to Marine-i for the help they have given in developing the Tidal Revival app. Working with Marine-i partner, University of Plymouth, has been a really positive experience. Their support has given us even more confidence that Tidal Revival can become a powerful catalyst for lasting change.”