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Exciting new project uses AI to tackle litter

25 May 2022

We’re delighted to announce that we have been selected by The Alan Turing Institute to tackle litter using artificial intelligence.

Working in partnership with Keep Wales Tidy, we have been chosen to take part in The Alan Turing Institute’s first combined Turing Internship Network (TIN) and Data Study Group (DSG) programme. The Alan Turing Institute is the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, with headquarters at the British Library.

We hope to understand if artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to analyse images of litter and improve data collection during litter surveys. We will also investigate how data science can enable local authorities to better understand litter patterns in public spaces. 

The programme will place a PhD data science researcher within our organisations to work on the data challenge. The intern will use their research and technical skills to find new ways to approach the challenge, whilst also gaining extensive expertise in the topics. 

Catherine Gee, our Deputy Chief Executive said: ‘This exciting collaboration with our partners at Keep Wales Tidy comes at an incredibly important time.  Not least as we know that 88% of Scots agree that litter is a problem across Scotland and our data shows the issues are getting worse – with a 111% increase over the last decade in significantly littered sites. 

“We are delighted that our project has been selected by the Alan Turing Institute to investigate how AI can help improve how we gather data, conduct research and target future interventions to tackle litter and change behaviours’.

Keep Wales Tidy Chief Executive, Lesley Jones, said: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with Keep Scotland Beautiful on this exciting project and would like to thank The Turing for their support.

“AI could provide significant benefits and opportunities for our research activities, but there is a great deal that is under investigated and under explored. We’re looking forward to working with some of the world's leading experts to better understand how AI could help us tackle litter in the future.”

Furthermore, this year we have secured two collaborative projects with the University of Stirling Management School. Students will be scoping how AI can be best utilised to collect environmental data and secondly, how information can be analysed and presented to best inform services.

Our current litter monitoring programme is conducted by ourselves and local authorities, whereby thousands of streets and roads across Scotland are assessed for litter and other indicators of local environmental quality. This provides us with information on the areas worst affected, litter types, and other issues on our streets such as weeds and detritus. Since 2019/20 we have been working with Zero Waste Scotland to transition to using LMS, a new system where surveys can be collected spatially and analysed online.

We hope all of these projects will help improve our knowledge of different methods of data collection and how we can improve efficiency in monitoring litter, as well as improve the way we, and other stakeholders, use data to tackle this growing issue.

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