Three years ago, Elena’s dog Larsen (the corgi) choked on a chicken bone he found while on a walk around Brooklyn. Larsen was fine but we were mad as hell - and couldn't stop talking about litter.

We couldn’t find much relevant information about the litter in our neighborhood, so we decided to become experts ourselves. We started by tracking how much litter we picked up on each street and sharing that information with the community, hoping to raise awareness and encourage action.

Since then, we’ve fully committed to cleaner streets. We moved to one of the dirtiest cities in the US - San Francisco - and launched an iOS app, Rubbish, that lets us track the litter. We created a smart litter picker-upper that automatically tracks what's being picked up. Rubbish conducted San Francisco’s longest and largest litter studies, made to the top of r/pics with the 8,000 cigarettes we collected off the streets (we kept them our porch for a month before we sent it to be recycled) and used data to cut litter by 47% in some neighborhoods.

We believe cleaning litter is the easiest way to help your local environment, make our communities healthier and keep plastic from getting into the ocean - all while getting some steps in.


Ask us Anything!

EDIT: All - We’re winding things down soon. Thanks for all the questions. We tried to answer as many as we can and we didn’t want to steal the spotlight from Joseph Gordon-Levitt's AMA :). DM us, or email us [email protected] if you have other questions or want to pick up some litter sometime.

Edit 2: That's a wrap - thank you!

Edit 3: This is the r/pics post we referenced above.

Comments: 766 • Responses: 53  • Date: 

thornza715 karma

How do you afford to just quit your jobs and do something like this?

ThrowAwayFor30yo717 karma

  • Felipe: I had saved up a little before moving to the west coast, but had to get another job for a bit and moonlight not long after
  • Elena: It’s not easy. Emin and I bootstrapped for a long time. When I left my job, I was nervous but felt like we can make a difference and was committed to this. It’s a leap of faith. We are now getting cities to use our tools to clean up more effectively - and are certainly focused on making a business.
  • Emin: I was lucky to have a good-paying job as a programmer (iOS) that allowed me to take this risk.

mrjowei451 karma

“A little” does not seems enough to move from NYC to SF.

ThrowAwayFor30yo504 karma

Felipe - I had 12k saved, before quitting my job and moved all my belongings to the west coast on a motorcycle, I crashed on friends couches, watched people’s dogs in exchange for a place to stay. It ran out after a few months and I had to sell some of my things and get another job that paid me. It isn’t something everyone can do, I don’t have kids or even a dog.

ThrowAwayFor30yo407 karma

Emin - I will never forget. Felipe drove cross country for four days straight and the first thing he did when he in SF was pick up litter.

ThrowAwayFor30yo482 karma

The second thing he did was have a beer.

HansBrixOhNo194 karma

Smashes bottle on the ground

ThrowAwayFor30yo533 karma

Felipe: Carefully sweeps up and categorizes smashed bottle

f4te23 karma

money helps

ThrowAwayFor30yo213 karma

  • All - This was a personal one for all of us. None of us came from money and we all went to public school, but we all managed to get good jobs.
  • Emin - I went to public high schools Brooklyn and the Bronx, they were both in the most overcrowded schools in the country (+5,000 students). I studied Molecular Biology in a State School and eventually became a self-taught programmer and started my own company, but I slept on many a couch along the way.
  • Elena - I am an immigrant. My parents moved here when I was 7 with 3 bags and worked a lot to make sure I had shelter, clothes, food, and a better future.
  • Felipe - I’m lucky to have parents that worked hard to bring us to the US and give me the opportunities that I had.

skipilicious913151 karma

Where does all the litter come from? Is it people just dropping their trash on the ground or are there other sources people don't typically think about?

ThrowAwayFor30yo294 karma

  • Felipe - It comes from everyone consuming things - and that’s a part of our lives. The top two things that we pick up are cigarettes and paper (receipts, wrappers, napkins) and we see more of it in areas with more commercial activity, like restaurants and bars.
  • Emin - People like to blame the homeless population and they do play a role. But, we pick up the most trash on Halloween and Santa Con.

scoutgirl4742 karma

I know around here (east coast) we see a lot more litter on windy days from when people put their trash cans out but they get knocked over or the lid falls off and loose recycling blows out.

ThrowAwayFor30yo34 karma

Emin - Yes, trash can placement and trash can design plays a big role

gravi-tea133 karma

Will Rubbish be made available for android?

ThrowAwayFor30yo212 karma

Emin - Yes, we know it is important for green bubbles to log litter too. My background is in creating iOS apps so that is where we started.

WolfBearDog123 karma

I read two paragraphs and before I realized this wasn't talking about kitty litter. Rubbish sounds cool, I can code stuff, can I help?

ThrowAwayFor30yo71 karma

Elena - sure! DM us.

Emin - ha, nice

flooha80 karma

What is the #1 thing the SF government could do to reduce litter the most?

ThrowAwayFor30yo192 karma

  • Elena - We’ve found that as a city, we need to educate our residents on best practices and keep them in the loop on upcoming improvements. We found by auditing neighborhoods that garbage can placement doesn’t always align with where they are actually needed and (shameless plug) data-driven solutions will help.
  • Felipe - Making littering less easy, having the infrastructure in place to not have to walk 10 blocks with something in your hand before being able to throw it away. And understanding that people are going to smoke and that taking away cigarette receptacles doesn’t discourage smoking, it enables littering. Placing should be driven by data, not feelings.

poliuy103 karma

Yes, I'm from the Bay Area as an Environmental Programs Manager and garbage can placement is HUGE. We have taken a page from Disneyland and tried placing our cans in closer proximity to each other AND in locations where people will likely have trash with them (e.g outside of restaurants, picnic areas, etc.). The problem is the cost of maintenance. All of those cans have to be emptied at least once a week, and the cost of installing them can be pricey (we once got a quote for 10 cans at 10k). So while adding more cans is the best, figuring out placement of what you have is a great BMP.

You should give data driven results of litter reduction when cans are repurposed in new locations and the area of effect for each can (a little markers around the can on a map to show trash is reduced within this area).

Also I would add pet waste in your study for litter. Many agencies will have to come into compliance with F.coli TMDLs for their watersheds. Reducing pet waste has been shown to help in bringing that down (as well as reducing excess sediment and vegetation). Anyway, I love the idea and progress your team has made, keep up the good work :).

ThrowAwayFor30yo48 karma

Felipe - Thanks, We will DM you, we want to help.
Emin - We spend a weird amount of time talking about trash can placement.

dogwoodblack65 karma

Have you attempted to gamify it? Get business entities to compete against other businesses, individuals vs individuals. Leaderboards etc.. who picked up the most trash. Day/week/month year etc.. City wide contests.

Create a non-profit/charity structure and then have businesses "donate" to the cause.

ThrowAwayFor30yo73 karma

Elena - you’ve read our mind about gameification. Stay tuned…

keepevets64 karma

What’s the grossest thing you’ve found when cleaning litter?

ThrowAwayFor30yo146 karma

  • Felipe - half a pigeon
  • Elena - Used toilet paper (#2)
  • Emin - ¼ of a pigeon

Babylonius59 karma

Was the half a pigeon and 1/4 if a pigeon two different times? Or just two different interpretation of pigeon proportions?

ThrowAwayFor30yo235 karma

Emin - Two different times. We suspect fowl play.

intensely_human49 karma

How do you classify the litter picked up? Do you classify it? Is there any machine learning involved?

If so, what are the most commonly-discarded items?

ThrowAwayFor30yo109 karma

  • Felipe - Right now, after you take a picture, there is a pop up with categories and you just press the category button to submit and move on. We are using the images that have been manually categorized to train models to do this automatically. It’s tough with the generally small objects we see the most: cigarettes 40%-70%, paper 10%-30%, and plastic wrappers.
  • Elena - the goal is to use ML to categorize.
  • Emin - hotdog/not hotdog but for cigarette butts.

dogwoodblack30 karma

im enjoying all the subtle jokes in this ama. hotdog/not hotdog.

ThrowAwayFor30yo40 karma

  • Emin: (☞゚ヮ゚)☞ ☜(゚ヮ゚☜)
  • Elena: ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
  • Felipe: <(。_。)>

Daddy_010348 karma

Why do smokers think it’s acceptable to litter?

ThrowAwayFor30yo125 karma

Emin - All three of us were smokers at one point. Just like littering, it is not a great habit, and it is tough to break. It is something that has been engraved into some smokers’ heads that it is ok to do. Now when we clean and people see us, they’re a lot less likely to toss their butt. We’re slowly breaking their litter habit. We even had some people say they’ve completely stopped since they started seeing us picking up every day. Either way, we try not to be judgemental. (You convince more people by being friendly than criticizing them.)

thecaptgabe42 karma

Holdup so what's the value of getting data out of litter? Like seriously what do you use it for?

ThrowAwayFor30yo92 karma

  • Elena - Same as the value in tracking covid-19 cases. In order to solve a problem, we have to understand it first.
  • Felipe - Solving any complex issue requires you to know about what you are trying to fix. Where should a city install trash cans? When should they be doing street sweeping? How much extra infrastructure do you need for large events? There are so many decisions that need to be made, being informed helps make the right decisions.
  • Emin - We try to write a lot about why this is important. Check out some of our articles

diamondfound39 karma

How can I get a magic wand - smart litter picker upper thing?

ThrowAwayFor30yo61 karma

  • Felipe: I’m working on making more (I build them in my apartment) we are working on designing a new one to make in larger numbers.
  • Elena: we’re building them in batches! Sign up here:
  • Emin: I used to have a 3D printer going in my bedroom 24/7. It was like living with a fax machine that was always receiving messages. Then, I would take the parts to Felipe where he would assemble and Lane would take care of shipping. This is how beams use to come into the world.

pawsitivelynerdy38 karma

How can a person with a full time job help? I live in Seattle and bike commute to work and see garbage everywhere!

ThrowAwayFor30yo50 karma

  • Elena - the small things matter :-) It’s great that you bike to work - if you keep a small litter bag on you, you can pick up a couple of pieces of litter each day. Over time, you’ll see a difference. We also love a mid-day stroll to stretch and pick up a couple more. There may also be cleanups in your neighborhood that you can join.
  • Felipe - Participate or organize a local cleanup (it's hard to do right now) get involved in local government and let them know it is an issue.
  • Emin - Start with your block, pick up anything you see you see within a couple of feet of your front door. It gets a little easier every day.

rcc73738 karma

Have you met Mike Rowe? He lives in SF and would probably like to get involved with you guys.

ThrowAwayFor30yo26 karma

Elena - we’d love to talk to him!

yuppiehippie29 karma

What’s the most memorable thing you found while picking up litter?

ThrowAwayFor30yo107 karma

Emin - A backpack containing the empty wallets and passports of a German couple on their honeymoon. We called the numbers of the hotels we found in their backpack and ended up getting them back their stuff that night. There were tears.

brahcoli10127 karma

can i intern for you guys?

ThrowAwayFor30yo27 karma

  • Elena - DM us.
  • Emin - Shows good initiative

Ellis_Dee-2522 karma

How did you make enough money to be pissed off in Brooklyn about a chicken bone then quit your job to pick up trash/ live in the Bay Area and put it on a spreadsheet?

Also, was it shocking to you when you got to the bay that a chicken bone is the least of biological worries when it comes to what's on those streets?

Can we see the link to your top post in pics?

ThrowAwayFor30yo21 karma

  • Felipe - I had a good job making robots for the military, I wanted a change, and this project made me feel better about what I was contributing to the world. It was a bit of a shock but it is not a unique problem. Link to r/pics post
  • Elena - I didn’t make a lot of money but was pissed enough to do something - yes. If I can contribute my time on Earth to making cities cleaner and healthier, I’m all in.
  • Emin - I had an app development company. The switch to full-time litter picker was gradual. The Bay Area is simultaneously the grossest and most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. Both extremes consistently take my breath away.

PolishGuacamole21 karma

/r/pics Do you prefer to go by Trash Thor or Janithor?

ThrowAwayFor30yo26 karma

Emin - Trash Thor, can't believe I didn't do this for my Halloween costume

Ziribbit19 karma

Hi folks, fellow detrasher here. Ever find drugs? None here yet...

ThrowAwayFor30yo54 karma

  • Elena - agree with Felipe, also some teeny tiny plastic bags with some white residue.
  • Felipe - Soooo many roaches. Lots of needles in some areas as well.
  • Emin - Some white powder. Smelled like coke.

gimmepizzas19 karma

How do you handle syringes? I see used ones everywhere. Makes me sad.

ThrowAwayFor30yo45 karma

Elena - They make us sad too. We don’t pick up hazardous things. We report poop and other potentially dangerous stuff directly to 311 through our app.

Yrouel8614 karma

What are the top 3 items that if stopped being produced (like because there could be a better alternative or we could do without) will make the most impact on reducting litter?

ThrowAwayFor30yo40 karma

  • Elena - to-go containers, coffee cups, receipts (understandably, the current covid-19 climate makes bringing your own container/cup unsafe, but normally…)
  • Emin - cigarettes, cigarette cartons, and cigarettes

Yrouel8613 karma

Follow up question, is paper litter actually an environmental issue or is just gross and ugly?

ThrowAwayFor30yo30 karma

  • Elena - 1 cigarette can contaminate up to 1000 L of water
  • Felipe - Paper clogs up storm drains which cause other problems, it is not just a vanity issue.

user57013 karma

What if the government paid everyone to go out and pick up trash right now? We could be assigned in random pairs on an app each time we schedule work and we'd take pictures of trash at the end of the day and rate each other's honesty to weed out freeloaders. It could become a national contest that meets our financial needs and at the same time tracks our contacts to predict who should go into quarantine and when. But I'll bet there's some reason why this can't happen. Right?

ThrowAwayFor30yo14 karma

  • Felipe - that's been on the back of our minds for a while, setting up some sort of incentive for people to pick up litter. We have tons of ideas.
  • Emin - Did you hack our zoom calls?

liberty4u29 karma

SF? Wow!!! How much human feces have you picked up?

ThrowAwayFor30yo20 karma

Felipe - I make a pinchy grabby picker-upper, not a pooper-scooper. We report poop and other potentially dangerous stuff to 311 in our app.

bankseu7 karma

I’m a running and I have a consistent route in my small town. I’ve noticed my trail has litter and I’ve wanted to start picking it up along my runs.

How well would your app be usable to track my run-slash-clean-up-the-trail sort of runs?

ThrowAwayFor30yo11 karma

Elena - YES. Just released a trail view that visually presents your activity AND litter per minute!
Emin - Thank you for asking this. I was up until 2am submitting this feature to the app store ahead of Earth Day. Here is a screenshot: PS I need sleep.

dualsusser6 karma

Intriguing platform and concept. How are you all differentiating yourselves from other litter picker-upper data platforms, such as Litterati?


ThrowAwayFor30yo8 karma

Felipe - Litterati is doing good work. Our approaches are different. On the app side, we are more focused on making the collection process funner and easier. We are also making hardware to collect data while picking up litter.

nanjingbooj6 karma

How have you been managing funding? It sounds like a great project.

ThrowAwayFor30yo19 karma

Elena - we actually met the man who later became our first investor while picking up litter. We’re fundraising now, and also have a few customers for some of the tools that we make and our research.

alovelychicken6 karma

Can i do it in my country? What would i need?

ThrowAwayFor30yo5 karma

Felipe - Yes, right now you just need an iPhone.

cruztec6 karma

SF Resident here..

Is it true that the Marina is built on a landfill? Also, I’d true.. wouldn’t that be an environmental nightmare if something were to happen like an earth quake?

Thanks and stay safe

ThrowAwayFor30yo25 karma

Felipe - Yes, the Marina is a liquefaction zone, because it is built on landfill. But it isn't all trash, some of the nicest people I know live there.

sunbun996 karma

What’s the most interesting conversation you’ve had while out picking up litter?

ThrowAwayFor30yo21 karma

Felipe - So many. I think the one that stands out the most was early on, we ran into some guys coming out of a bar and talked for 30 min, they would not let us leave without hugs and trying to give us money. Ken if you’re reading this <3

Elena - I met a woman who, in ten minutes, VC-ed me with question after question on sales and business model and scalability. It was the best masterclass I ever went to. I still talk to her.

Emin - I once spoke for 30 minutes with a homeless man who was complaining about the tech bros littering, peeing on the street, and getting wasted on the weekends. He was concerned that they’re ruining the city and keeping the tourists away from his corner. He said this with zero irony and was concerned about how he was going to make money with all these drunks around. I’ll never forget this conversation.

wellanticipated5 karma

Hey! I saw your app a year or so ago and thought it was a really great idea. I live in the Mission and assumed eventually I would start to see people walking around with these things, but I've never seen any. Is that coming? Is this a proof of concept or an actual product/mission? FWIW, we moved here from BK as well and have never quite had the same issue of chicken bones strewn in front of the bodega... here it's more that she pees near/on syringes. Either way, your effort should no doubt help our collective quality of life and all of our furbabies.

ThrowAwayFor30yo4 karma

Elena - We’re making the Rubbish Beams in small batches, and have a plan for scaled production. Sign up on our website if you’re interested in one. We’ve done a couple of cleanups in the Mission with Clean Mission SF and will continue to do group cleanups. You’ll also see us more in SoMa in the coming months.

Emin - Thank you - we're working hard to produce more smart grabbers. (Also, originally from Bay Ridge here, welcome to the Bay)

diamondfound5 karma

I wish everyone would leave the military industrial machine to begin picking up trash for a living. Felipe - can you make that happen?

ThrowAwayFor30yo6 karma

Felipe - a boy can dream, can’t he?

hinkelflek5 karma

Great initiative you guys are doing. I was wondering what your thoughts are on introducing laws that limit how materials can be used for packaging? Like having things be made out of one material so recycling can be simplified

ThrowAwayFor30yo5 karma

Elena - This would make it simpler, but the issue really involves communication between many players. I used to work in supply chain and operations for food and beverage brands, and would love to roundtable the discussion of making products to the post-sale life of a package. Even toothpaste tubes are made from at least 6 different types of material.

yukon-flower5 karma

What are your views on stopping the source of litter (vs. putting focus on individuals who end up being the last in the chain of the litter)? I've read that

the entire anti-litter movement was initiated by a consortium of industry groups who wanted to divert the nation’s attention away from even more radical legislation to control the amount of waste these companies were putting out.

(Source) As a follow-on has it been easy to get corporate backing for your projects?

ThrowAwayFor30yo8 karma

  • Felipe - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is meant to be followed in that order, some companies are stepping up and making smarter choices on packaging (why is Trader Joe's insistent on wrapping veggies in plastic?) No corporate backing so far, but we know we will need to work with the biggest offenders to get to the root of the problem.

  • Elena - My background is in consumer products, and I helped create a lot of packaged food and beverage products. The industry is de-facto making waste but is also pushing the envelope to innovate solutions. We all will need to work together to educate and incentivize good behaviour.

  • Emin - We’ve had a lot of local backing from businesses on Polk Street. We’ve also been very fortunate to be featured by Apple at WWDC.

gladiathor12954 karma


ThrowAwayFor30yo12 karma

Felipe - I feel more fulfilled doing this than when I was making robots, also had been wanting to move to California for a while. Things kind lined up.

Elena - I spent my career making food and beverage products. It’s a full circle that I now clean that up.

Emin - for the shitposts

-0llll0-4 karma


ThrowAwayFor30yo14 karma

Felipe - Gonna be real, it can get discouraging - cleaning something up and it being dirty the next day sucks. What helps is that over time the amount of litter we see is going down and appreciating that the small changes will add up. When enough people get involved in a movement, we can make things change. China will catch up.

the_sky_is_up4 karma

As somebody studying data science, is there an avenue set up to access the data, either through an API or otherwise?

ThrowAwayFor30yo6 karma

Elena - we’re working with data scientists and universities to evaluate trends and publish reports. If you have a project in mind, send us a DM. Emin - Creating open API’s is a complex process and something we don’t want to do haphazardly. It is on our roadmap though.

TheMossisReallySoft3 karma

How do you display your data for community access? I do a lot of GIS work and I’ve come across some pretty cool digital mapping platforms, would love to learn about how you manage that!

ThrowAwayFor30yo5 karma

Felipe - I’m no GIS wiz, my background is Mechanical Engineering, I’ve been making all of our maps with a combination of tableau and mapbox, and animating them in after effects. We are still working on making it easier for us, would love to get feedback.

Emin - Prior to this, I never appreciated the complexity of GIS and mapping. We'd love to hear your thoughts about cool ways we can share and map litter.

dantheman913 karma

How do you plan to turn this into a business? How much will a highly specific data set matter? Isn't the solution to litter in general, have something more convenient for them to dispose it?

ThrowAwayFor30yo7 karma

  • Felipe - We have customers for reporting tools that we made. You are right, convenience is important, but where do those things need to go? Cities have limited resources and need to know where they can do the most.
  • Elena - Residents want cleaner streets and cities are working on that. We want to make cities even better at it. We want to empower everyone in this conversation to have a voice. Our business is to create tools to make effective cleaning possible, using the root cause of the issue.
  • Emin - People hate litter. We have a plan to get rid of it.

jaceinspace3 karma

Could I use your app when I pick up trash around Richmond, CA, or is it just for San Francisco?

ThrowAwayFor30yo5 karma

  • Felipe - It works all over the world, not just SF. There are a few SF specific features like reporting issues to 311 that are rolling out city by city.
  • Elena - Please do.

Krankenstein203 karma

What's the most bizarre thing you've picked up?

Also, are you aware that you are lovely people? :D

ThrowAwayFor30yo4 karma

  • Felipe - Can you let my parents know you said that?
  • Elena - You’re kind. Please tell my folks too. From Emin's earlier comment, one of our favorite memories is a backpack containing the empty wallets and passports of a German couple on their honeymoon. We called the numbers of the hotels we found in their backpack and ended up getting them back their stuff that night. There were tears.
  • Emin - To add to the story, the German couple parked their car by my apartment near Lombard street. We see breaking almost daily. Now whenever I see a happy looking tourist park their car, I look in their back seat and warn them not to leave anything. I get some strange looks sometimes.

_Maximo_3 karma

Have you heard of Friends of the Trail in Washington State? Amazing work very similar to yours.

ThrowAwayFor30yo3 karma

Emin - No, but we'll check them out. Do you know someone there that we can contact?

SolarisSoleil2 karma

How has covid-19 changed the data you pull in?

And is there anywhere for us to donate to you guys? This is the type of thing I personally would want to back up and support. You guys are amazing and truly an inspiration, you reminded me that you gotta step out of your comfort zone and take that terrifying leap of faith for the things you believe in.

ThrowAwayFor30yo2 karma

Felipe - It has put a damper on collection, and a lot of events we had planned have been canceled. We are still going out on walks and categorizing but not picking up as much just in case. You can donate here to support us. Thanks, it's been an awesome journey so far.

Emin - We're still evaluating the effects of COVID, but it has reduced the frequency of our collecting. Though we do still go out during off-hours and count litter. For science.