It’s more than likely that we call groups of ravens an unkindness due to their unforgiving intelligence. A Swedish experiment training birds to earn food rewards had one raven hacking the project entirely. The thoughtful budgie even took the time to teach other birds the secret. Now, startup Crowded Cities is testing the brainpower of crows, using them to pick up litter.
The idea is to train the crows to drop cigarette butts in a ‘Crowbar,’ which scans the item to confirm it’s a cigarette butt, and then gives the crow a food reward to reinforce the behavior.
Considering the amount of cigarette butts that end up on sidewalks annually (about 4.5 trillion), these crows could make a difference. The butts are not only non-biodegradable, but toxic to marine life. For ultimate efficiency, the Crowbar uses a simple give-and-take mechanism.
[Everything] is done with the intention that the crow will fly away and inform others of this system, so that more crows participate in cigarette butt collecting.
Research has found that crows are as cognitive as apes, so the success of the Crowbar should be anticipated.
Getting strangers to clean up after themselves almost always involves an incentive. For Starbucks regulars, it’s a 5p charge on single-use cups. For Freiburg Cup users, its a 1 euro tip back for returns. But for the Swedish community, cleaning-as-you-go is simply an everyday habit — and it’s called plogging.
“It’s not that everyone should be running about picking up other people’s litter. It should be put in the bin in the first place. But I believe all of us should make an effort to keep our surroundings clean.” [said jogging group leader Anna Christopherson.]
The exercise, which has now gained traction in Scotland, pays homage to the Swedish word “plocka.” Meaning both to jog and pick up, the play on words is perfect. Mastermind Christopherson has even incorporated stretching into the mix.
“Quite a few joggers already take it on themselves to pick up litter when they see it in their running spots. Having a whole group of joggers doing this regularly could make a real difference to parks, paths and pavements.”
For some, giving back is less of a hassle when it’s convenient. For ploggers, it’s just another tick on the to-do list.