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Catawba Students Take a Closer Look at Campus Litter

April 13, 2018

Category: Academics, Environmental Science, Events, Students

Catawba Student Michael Pierce leads a demonstration at the Catawba Creativity & Research Showcase.

The Department of Environment & Sustainability’s Intermediate Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Field GPS class created buzz last Thursday (April 12, 2018) at the Catawba Creativity & Research Showcase with an unconventional presentation: a giant touch screen with an interactive map showcasing campus litter. 

Their presentation was created using ESRI’s Story Maps, a new way of engaging science with the public (a copy of their presentation is available here:

Several student attendees agreed, “Litter is a real problem. You just never see it presented like this.” 

Visiting Assistant Professor, Dr. Tyler W Davis’, Intermediate (GIS) and Field GPS class spent a few weeks in February surveying, identifying, and photographing litter found around campus. Thanks to generous donations to the department, students were outfitted with professional-grade equipment including high-precision GPS receivers and tablets. Over 400 surveys were collected totaling 648 pieces of litter. 

litter2018.jpg A map shows the hot-spots for litter across the Catawba College campus and the locations of outdoor trash and recycling bins.

Students identified plastic as the largest contributor to campus litter, which made up almost 50% of the survey. Students found that nearly 30% of the plastic was bottles from beverages such as water, soft drinks and sports drinks. 

Students took their survey results a step further by identifying problematic areas for litter on campus. One question students wanted to answer was whether there was a relationship between the locations of litter and its distance to trash and recycling bins. Using geoprocessing tools, students found that the average distance between litter locations and the nearest trash or recycling bin was nearly 200 feet (with a range between one and 830 feet). 

Armed with their new data, the question that many agree on is “What do we do about this?” 




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