Female wearing black jeans and black t-shirt with trainers on bending down next to the sea line and taking a photograph of plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is a crisis born of carelessness. But imagine if there was a way for anyone to help tackle the plastic waste problem – with a solution that fits in your pocket. Portsmouth alumnus Louis Capitanchik, Software Engineering 2016 graduate, imagined exactly that. And now he’s made it happen by creating the Jetsam app, which you can use to map plastic pollution.

‘It doesn’t take much detective work to find plastic waste — such as bottles and packaging in gutters or washed up on the beach’, Louis explains. ‘A lot of research has focused on hard-to-see microplastics; a major problem for sure, but one that’s difficult for the average person to engage with. 

‘Jetsam was devised to start describing the plastics problem. The core idea is that everyone can be a citizen scientist with the right tools.’ Louis says.

An app to map plastic hotspots

Using the Jetsam app, local communities are empowered to catalogue plastic waste they see in their neighbourhood. This data can then be used to inform clean-up efforts and targeted environmental initiatives. 
Anyone with a smart mobile device can download the Jetsam app. It’s free and easy to use. Simply open the app and take a picture of whatever plastic you find when out and about. If your geolocation is enabled, the photo’s location will be identified, building up a map of plastic hotspots. 

Jetsam launched in February 2020 and Louis says the response has been amazing. Within two months, Jetsam had hundreds of users. Organisations are also showing an interest – which is key to Louis’ plan to work with local community organisations, councils and companies, to help them understand the problems. 

Collaborating with the University 

Jetsam is now collaborating with the University to run the world’s first programme of city-wide plastic pollution surveys, thanks to funding from The Flotilla Foundation. The project forms part of our Revolution Plastics initiative, which is assembling teams of scientists, businesses and citizens to find solutions to the world’s plastic problem.

Researchers from our Revolution Plastics team will analyse data gathered via the app to better understand the patterns and movement of plastic waste in Portsmouth and develop solutions to reduce plastic entering the environment.

As an island city with an active community, Portsmouth is the ideal laboratory for a project like this. Louis explains: ‘Once we’ve proven that a community driven project can make meaningful environmental change, we can take Jetsam on the road’. 

There are already members of the Jetsam community in places from Margate in Kent to Portrush in Northern Ireland, but coastal towns and cities the world over face similar problems. ‘As more locations adopt Jetsam, we’ll build a better picture of not only where the plastic is, but what we can do to tackle it at source.’ Louis says.

A personal crusade to fight plastic waste

Louis has always been passionate about the environment. The idea for Jetsam was sparked by two events. First, a news story about a plastic toy washed up on a Portsmouth beach. The toy was found to date from the middle of the last century – and was still absolutely pristine (illustrating the danger of plastic waste in our seas, where it takes hundreds of years to break down into microplastic pieces). Closer to home, Louis recalls walking past a street one morning where a bin had been knocked over:
Louis’ can-do attitude was influenced by his experience studying BSc (Hons) Software Engineering at Portsmouth, which he describes as ‘a very practical approach to the stuff I wanted to learn.’ He recalls a lecturer bringing in a pickaxe and weaving a ‘wonderful analogy about gardening and how that relates to how you build software.’ 

Listen to Louis’ story in our Making Waves podcast:

Download the Jetsam app

To play your part in fighting plastic pollution, download the app or learn more at jetsam.tech.

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