Talking with … A ‘trash talker’ with a sparkling ideaby alix wall, j. correspondent
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Name: Jeff Kirschner
Position: Founder of Litterati.org, entrepreneur
J.: The goal of Litterati.org is to use social media to help clean up the world. Did your daughter really give you the idea for it?
Jeff Kirschner: We were walking in the Oakland Hills, and Tali noticed someone had thrown a plastic tub of cat litter into Sausal Creek. She looked at me and said a phrase I’ll never forget: “Daddy, that doesn’t go there.” To her it was perplexing; she didn’t understand why that would be there. To me, it was closer to infuriating. It made me think of summer camp, where on the morning of visiting day, they asked each camper to pick up five pieces of trash. Whenever I’ve told that story, I see a lot of heads nodding. With hundreds of kids each picking up five pieces, we had a much cleaner camp, so I thought, “Why can’t we apply that crowd-sourced model to the entire planet?”
JK: My larger goal is to create a litter-free planet, a goal that is ambitious, bordering on insane. At this point it’s a grassroots movement that has thousands of people from 45 countries. While we’ve had campaigns with Whole Foods and Chipotle offering rewards, in the vast majority of cases, no one is being rewarded for anything, except knowing they’re contributing to the greater good.
I hope to use all the data we’re collecting to get cities to be more strategic about where to place trash and recycling units, work with brands to improve their packaging, and run programs that might incentivize people to clean up the planet.
J.: What are the most frequently found kinds of trash?
JK: Plastic of different types, followed by cigarettes, which could be a butt, carton or the wrapper that goes around the pack. From a brand perspective, Starbucks, Marlboro, Wrigley’s, Newport, Camel, Trident, Snickers and bottle caps like Coca Cola.
J.: Do you foresee Litterati becoming profitable at some point?
JK: I want to become a B corporation, which is a social venture with a for-profit model but rooted in a socially conscious cause. The big opportunity is creating customized tools for schools, youth groups and environmental organizations, allowing them to see their impact on the planet. If you want to see just the impact that John Doe has had, or all the Starbucks cups picked up in Oakland or any combination, we have that data. I want to build tools that are easy for these organizations to understand, at a price point they can afford.
J.: What’s your Jewish background?
JK: I grew up outside Philly, at the Conservative Har Zion Temple, but there was no emotional connection to Judaism for me whatsoever. It wasn’t until recently that the light bulb went off for me about what it meant to be Jewish and where our real values were, and this is an ongoing learning process of figuring out how Jewish cultural values align with my own personal beliefs. My family belongs to Temple Sinai in Oakland and, little by little, I’m finding value in Jewish culture.
J.: Litterati’s first art exhibit is on display (with limited hours or by appointment) at the San Francisco Recology Environmental Learning Center, and Litterati also has been featured in USA Today, the S.F. Chronicle and many other media outlets. Has that helped your cause?
JK: It’s helped in two ways. It’s creating some awareness of what is clearly one of our planet’s biggest problems, and I’m hoping it’s doing that in a fun way, as there’s a big artistic element to what we’re doing. It’s also helping to build a community that’s leveraging technology to make a difference.
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