TOKYO >> Prior to the pandemic, it was common to see cheerful groups of volunteers picking up trash on the streets, but COVID-19 put a kink in such community service. After several years of living with the virus, however, social media has aided civic-minded souls in keeping Japan’s urban neighborhoods spick-and-span. Handy apps have been connecting like-minded folks keen on keeping their local areas clean, with users posting photos of collected litter to help inspire others to do the same.
One summer day, Takashi Yoshioka used long tongs to pick up trash at Shiba Park in Tokyo. In just an hour, he collected about 80 cigarette butts, discarded masks and numerous other items. After photographing his “collection,” he uploaded photos to the Pirika app and almost immediately began to receive “thank you” responses from other users.
Yoshioka, 57, heads Clean Up Frontier, a volunteer group based in Minato ward, Tokyo. He began picking up trash in fall 2021 and has incorporated the task into his schedule.
With the app, “I feel connected to others who share a common goal,” Yoshioka said. “The responses I receive help motivate me.”
Pirika was launched in 2011. Users post details about how much trash they have collected and upload photos, and the information is displayed on a map. Minato ward has been using Pirika since July 2021 to encourage people to take part in cleanup activities.
“I enjoy using the app, as it keeps a record of my activities and gives me a sense of accomplishment,” Yoshioka said.
So far, Pirika has logged more than 250 million pieces of collected trash in some 115 countries and regions. The app is free for individual users, but there is also a paid service that allows municipalities and companies to check on the number of volunteers who have participated and the number of times litter has been cleared from specific areas.
In 2019 six prefectures and cities in Japan were using the service. That number has increased to more than 16, including Akita, Kyoto and Mie prefectures.
But Pirika is not the only way to connect volunteers: Kameoka city in Kyoto prefecture uses its official Line account to share maps containing information on the amounts and types of trash collected by residents. Using photos and statistics, the city hopes to raise awareness about the importance of keeping the city clean.
In September, Awajishima island in Hyogo prefecture launched an app-based, monthlong campaign. Participants who photographed litter they collected earned points at designated stores and were entered to win prizes.
Prior to the pandemic, large groups of street- cleaning volunteers were a regular sight on the streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya ward; to encourage people to resume the activities, the ward began using Pirika in July 2021.
It also began a service to loan out cleaning equipment, which helped boost volunteer numbers and increase the trash collected tenfold.
More recently, Pirika users organized a cleanup after Halloween, when trash often accumulates after lively celebrations.
“We hope that (these cleanups) will take root,” said Shibuya ward official Masaki Aoki.
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