Humans consume one million plastic bottles every minute, 91% of which are not recycled. Approximately 32% of these end up in the ocean. The primary cause of pollution is single-use plastic waste. Every single piece of plastic that has ever existed is still in existence. This is because though plastics do break down over time, they decompose into finer microplastic particles. These microplastics infiltrate all sorts of ecosystems and negatively impact the health and reproduction of the living organisms in them.

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By minimizing our use of single-use plastics, we can prevent litter from cluttering ecosystems that would otherwise be flourishing. Though several ongoing projects are trying to tackle this, one such initiative is One Piece a Day (OPAD) based in Toronto, Canada.

Related: Flipflopi turns plastic waste into beautiful Kenyan boats

OPAD seeks to raise awareness about the harmful effects of litter, and specifically plastic pollution, in nature. The initiative is based on the concept that if everyone on the planet picks up (at least) one piece of litter every day, the planet could be a cleaner, greener place. This in turn would have positive impacts on the fight against climate change and would prevent further environmental degradation worldwide. The project is centered around an app that is used to track every piece of litter picked up by app users.

A group of people on a vehicle with bags to collect trash

How OPAD began

The initiative came to life when Founder Dmytriy Pereklita vacationed at the Maya Riviera in Mexico. He was shocked by the substantial amount of litter that covered the coastline. In vain, he tried to fill a few large trash bags with waste, but realized he had barely made an impact on the extremely polluted beach. In this state of frustration, Pereklita came up with the idea for OPAD. After a few years of unsuccessfully trying to put together the app and balance his work as an architect, he finally began to work on the initiative full-time. He hired a team and together they set up OPAD and launched the app in June 2017.

Alongside the app launch five years ago, OPAD began to work with schools and universities. By engaging with students and raising awareness about environmental degradation caused by pollution, the organization encourages the younger generation to take small action steps to a greener planet. The students also brainstorm creative solutions with the OPAD team and inspire one another to adopt daily habits for an eco-friendly lifestyle.

In addition to working with students, OPAD sets up cleanup events in urban and suburban ecosystems with local communities. One of their most notable events took place in 2019, when the team organized an 800-person cleanup of the Don River ravine in Ontario. During the event, participants picked up over 160,000 pieces of litter.

A group of people wearing green shirts and plastic bags to clean up trash

OPAD’s growth in recent years

In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact on environmental degradation and pollution. As of 2020, disposable face masks have become a new threat to environmental well-being. Because of their polypropylene liners, they can take up to 450 years to decompose. Despite the pandemic’s exacerbation of pollution, in December 2020, the OPAD team hit a huge milestone. A total of one million pieces of pollution had been picked up by the OPAD app users.

Over the past five years, the team has been able to build the user base to several thousand individuals. OPAD has also been endorsed by various climate activists and organizations. These include the David Suzuki Foundation in 2017 and Sir David Attenborough in 2019. Alongside their worldwide recognition, the team has partnered with several environmental conservation organizations over the years.

One of the newest features that the OPAD team added to the app is an e-commerce section that encourages swaps from single-use products to eco-friendly alternatives. These include items such as bamboo toothbrushes, reusable tumblers and water bottles. The app also includes swaps for items that traditionally use plastic packaging, such as beauty products. Instead, users are encouraged to opt for low-waste or recyclable packaging options such as shampoo bars and toothpaste jars.

A group of people standing next to each other smiling into the camera with the backdrop of a pier

Looking to the future

As of June 2022, the app tracked over two million pieces of waste picked up worldwide. The newest version of the app also allows for more flexibility with how individuals log the litter they collect. Users can now log by piece, weight, blue (recycling) bag or black (waste) bag.

In the coming years, OPAD has more milestones they would like to hit. In fact, by 2025, the OPAD team would like to have a worldwide userbase of one million users on their app that collect litter each day. This would have an incredible impact on urban and suburban ecosystems across the globe. Through their varied initiatives, OPAD has expanded their realm beyond a litter-tracking app and grown to become an international community that encourages sustainable practices through education and corporate partnerships.

+ One Piece a Day

Images via One Piece a Day