What happens when two Johns Hopkins’ PhD candidates put their brilliant minds to finding solutions for Baltimore’s litter problem? An award-winning research paper identifying Baltimore’s “litter hot spots” and new ideas on how to reduce street litter.
Chris Kelley and Ramya Ambikapathi, both JHU doctoral candidates, won the 2016 Abell Award in Urban Policy. Their research paper, Litter-Free Baltimore: A trash collection policy framework based on spatial analysis and social media, tackled Baltimore’s ongoing street litter issue. The Abell Award in Urban Policy challenges Baltimore-area college and university students to analyze issues facing Baltimore and to develop smart and cost-effective solutions.
Using available data from 311 calls, surveys, interviews, and on-the-ground observation, Kelley and Ambikapathi developed a spatial analysis that revealed city street litter is concentrated around food carryout stores, bus stops, schools and convenience stores.
Based on this “spatial association,” Ambikapathi and Kelley were able to map Baltimore’s “litter hotspots” and pinpoint key areas for trash intervention strategies. These dense trash zones tend to be in Baltimore’s food deserts where citizens may rely on to-go foods eaten outside of the home that have, as author Chris Kelley, a PhD Candidate in JHU’s Department of Geography & Environmental Engineering put it, “higher packaging per meal than if food was cooked at home.”
Digging deeper into Baltimore’s litter hot spots, the team suggests a key reason for the unsightly litter is that there aren’t enough street trash cans in litter hot-spots. Also, the team found that available trash cans are too small and uncovered allowing trash to fly out in the wind. The 2016 Urban Policy student research also suggests that street trash cans aren’t ideally-spaced to promote use. A legendary “Disneyland Theory” suggests people will travel 30 paces or less to find a trash can. Placing cans near food takeout and convenience stores will improve trash disposal.
Ramya Ambikapathi, a PhD Candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Human Nutrition, explains the winners’ next steps, “we are presenting our paper to student groups to spark further data gathering. We are also meeting with city policy makers and non-profits to share our findings.”
The winning paper’s suggestions:
1. Conduct a city-wide trash can inventory.
2. Conduct trash demand and composition research in an effort to finalize litter hot spot zones.
3. Place plenty of trash street cans near bus stops, schools, carryout and convenience stores.
4. Empty street trash cans on consistent basis.
5. Label publicly-owned trash cans so that citizens can report to 311, or post on social media, which cans are overflowing and need to be emptied.
6. Promote social media use to identify trash hot spots and to promote positive trash-free social norms.
7. Follow the Baltimore Office of Sustainability’s recommendation to not only increase the number of street trash cans, but also to purchase narrow-mouthed lids to prevent dumping.