The Plastic Tide

Tag it!

PlasticFragments - Copy.jpg

Get involved in a world first!

Teach our computer program to detect and find plastics and litter in images of beaches.

Follow the link below and use the help to guide you in your task.

Below we explain a little more about the algorithm and what we can achieve with your time and help, along with some examples to help you classify the plastics and litter.

The Missing 99%

There are 8 million tonnes plastics entering our ocean each year, if nothing is done this number will increase until it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than living things.  Yet, of all the plastic already in or entering our oceans we cannot say for certain where it goes.

Collection of litter found at Westdale beach, Pembrokeshire.  All arrived on the plastic tide!

Collection of litter found at Westdale beach, Pembrokeshire.  All arrived on the plastic tide!

This presents a huge problem to scientists, as it is a major missing piece of understanding telling us how plastic impacts both the oceans and our lives.  So far we can only say with certainty where 1% ends up - on the ocean surface.  The remaining 99% is unaccounted for - we are unsure how much ends up on our sea floor, in the water column, in sea creatures or on our beaches.


You can help find the Missing 99%!

This is where you can help!  By tagging all the plastics and litter you can find in the images we've surveyed at 30 beaches across the nation you are teaching a computer program, or Machine Learning Algorithm, to find out how much of the missing 99% washes up on our beaches.

Eventually, thanks to your time and efforts, the Machine Learning Algorithm will be capable of picking out litter and plastics in the images it is presented of any coastline around the world.


How it works

A standard computer program has no way of distinguishing a piece of plastic from a pebble or a plane or to learn the difference.  As such most computer programs are not much different from a calculator at a basic level; they rely on pre-defined inputs to perform a programmed task for a set of desired outputs.  In other words you input '1 + 1' into your calculator, it then follows its programming adding the two numbers together to give you '2' as the output.

The Plastic Tide uses a new type of computer program called a 'Machine Learning Algorithm', different to standard computer programs in that it mimics the way the brain works to learn to tell the difference between a piece of plastic or a pebble, and more importantly, it can figure out a method of how to do this on its own.   The same type of algorithms are used in detect pedestrians in driver-less cars or identifying human emotions from pictures of people's faces.

However, to start with, it needs to be shown as many examples of what it is looking for as possible.  By tagging plastics and litter on our Zooniverse project, this is exactly what is being done.  Eventually, the program will learn to identify by itself what is and not a plastic or litter item.  

The team Engineer, Benjamin Hahn, explains more in his guest blog here.



Gallery of Examples

The following galleries we will continue to populate with examples of the different classifications to help you classify the plastic and litter you tag.  

'Plastic Fragments' 

Definition: These are plastics that have broken-down or fragmented into pieces of any size of a hard’ or ‘soft’ nature.  Examples of ‘soft’ plastics might be pieces of plastic bags or shreds of plastic packaging or wrapping and ‘hard’ plastics are pieces of bottle or fragments of plastic objects of any type.

 'Ropes, strings, fishing gear'

Definition: This classification covers any sort of ropes, string, twine, thread, fibre and fishing gear (lines and/or nets) etc that can be seen in the images.  Often these items are found as tangled masses of several different colours and types of strands, these are included in this category.

'Plastic Drink Bottles' 

Definition: These are bottles that, to the best you can tell, were once fizzy, yoghurt, juice etc drinks. If you find a bottle that looks like it contained anything other than drinks, e.g. milk carton, oil container, bleach, food crate, food carton, ice cream tube etc please tag it as a 'All other types of bottles & containers'.

'All other types of bottles & containers' 

Definition: This classification is for anything that is not a plastic drinks bottle and for which is used to contain liquids or solids.  For example glass bottles & jars, aluminium cans, tin cans, ice cream tubs, oil containers, plastic tubs, tupperware, food crates, milk cartons, bleach bottles etc. 

'All other plastic or litter items' 

Definition: These are all other litter or plastic items that do not fit into categories above.  For example, this would include items like fabric, lids, bottle caps, toothbrushes, gloves, food wrapper (where the brand can be identified - sweet, food and crisp packets). Remember if you can't identify what it was originally, tag it as a Plastic Fragment

'Uncertain items'

Definition:  This category is reserved for those items that you believe is plastic or litter but can't be certain for whatever reason.  Before using this category, be sure you've read the tagging guidance in the Zooniverse project.