If you’re concerned about the amount of plastic you buy, you’ll soon have an app to track that. With a $500K grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Eckerd’s Marine Science department will develop an app to track single-use plastic that could end up in Tampa Bay – and beyond.
Shannon Gowans, Professor of Marine Science at Eckerd College, is excited about the new app in development to track plastic use causing pollution in Tampa Bay; she’s working with Eckerd colleagues and students to develop an app to quantify plastic pollution in the Tampa Bay area.
“There’s a tremendous amount of useless plastic produced that’s causing pollution,” Gowans said. “A tracking app will encourage less plastic, and we’ll get data on what people are using, which allows us to offer information to policy makers.”
The three-year grant will implement the work of Eckerd’s “Reduce Single-Use” project, a study funded by NOAA and headed by Gowans and Amy Siuda, Associate Professor of Marine Science at Eckerd, alongside Eckerd’s Office of Sustainability and student organizations.
In 2019, institutional change led Eckerd’s administration to sign the “Break Free From Plastic Pledge”, barring the college from buying nonessential single-use plastic items. This led to the college’s drive to eliminate plastic on campus. The “Reduce Single-Use”campaign studied plastic use on campus, provided students reusable items, and created campus plastic-reduction challenges. It offered workshops on alternatives to single-use plastic products, such as bags, straws, and other throwaway items.
The project gathered lots of information, but students indicated an app would be helpful for tracking plastic use, so Gowans and Slupa turned to Eckerd professor of computer science Kelly Debure and her app-development students to create a beta research model for Eckerd and the University of North Florida.
“Documentation is important,” said Gowan, “but we also need solutions, and the data collected through the app will help with policy decisions. We want to ‘gamify’ the data so folks can compete with friends. Teens and other young people are very concerned about these issues, and a game will appeal to them,” said Gowans. “It will allow users to track things like how may bags they refuse when shopping, and challenge friends.”
Gowans said the feedback from students involved with the plastic challenge showed an app would be “a fantastic tool to reduce plastic use, but also we’re going to need to partner with a professional firm if we want to take this beyond campus.”
The goal is to have the app roll out in about six months, in time with school session. And though it’s starting locally, she hopes other places will also find it a helpful tool.
”We’re working with St.Petersburg’s Office of Sustainability,” Gowans said. “We need to make people aware of the problem. and make them aware that much plastic is not recyclable.”
Other community partners include Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Tampa Bay Watch, Suncoast Rise Above Plastics Coalition, St. Pete Youth Farm, and Arts Conservatory for Teens.
While Gowan wants to see less plastic in use, she understands it’s necessary in medicine and other areas. She wants to see better ways to dispose of it.
“Ways of doing things have changed,” Gowans said. “We need to turn off the plastic tap.”