The #TrashTag challenge originated from outdoor company UCO Gear in 2015 as part of a campaign to protect wilderness areas. However a few months ago it went viral with young people all over the world picking up rubbish in their local green spaces and posting the before and after photos online. This clean-up campaign helps the environment and encourages people to get outdoors and be active.
As with many hashtag challenges in Twitter, there has been some criticism as some have suggested people are doing good deeds just to post about it online. But I think this is a rather cynical view. If we compare this challenge to some of the other trends that have gone viral recently such as eating tide pods, the #TrashTag campaign is harmless and encourages people to clean up their communities. People have shared images of themselves canoeing down the canal in Blackburn, collecting rubbish. Norwegian high schoolers took photographs of their local beach before and after their trash collection. There have also been plastic clean-ups in India and Thailand and 633 divers in Deerfield beach set the world record for cleaning the ocean floor.
There’s also now a more recent campaign called #FillTheBottle which aims to tidy up cigarette butts. People post images online, alongside how long it took for the bottle to be filled. Cigarettes are thought to be the most common form of litter around the globe. A recently study also suggested discarded cigarette butts can hinder plant growth and last month a photograph appeared to show a bird on a beach in Florida trying to feed a cigarette butt to its chick. Worldwide, each individual person generates an average of 0.74 kilograms of waste per day, but ranges widely from 0.11 to 4.54 kilograms. High-income countries generate about 34%, or 683 million tonnes of the worlds waste even though they only account for 16% of the world’s population.
Since 1950, humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, a weight equivalent to 1 billion elephants. Although plastic producers often claim their products are recyclable, only around 9% of plastic ever gets recycled because of disparities in waste management systems, lack of capacity and poor educational initiatives around recycling.
I think these trends are successful because it comes down to the idea that people are making a difference there and then. Sometimes the problem of climate change can seem so great that the actions of one person are insignificant. But the #TrashTag challenge clearly demonstrates how much a landscape can be improved if people band together and clean up their local area. The photographic evidence of before and after further highlights the small role people can have in improving the environment. Communicating impact in this way is a simple, effective yet powerful message that reaches a global audience on social media. Clearly the trend has spread far and wide and long may it continue. However the very nature of internet trends often mean their popularity is short-lived. Despite this I believe challenges linked to climate change will become more and more common as people are realising the impact of global warming first-hand. While these clean-up drives are a brilliant way for people to connect with their local community and take pride in their green spaces, the best thing we can all do is to not litter in the first place.
By Laura Patton, CW18 Trainee at the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network.