The planet is drowning in plastic pollution. Plastic has been found on the world's tallest mountain peak and its deepest ocean trench. It's washed up on the shores of Antarctica and on the beaches of remote, uninhabited islands in the South Pacific.
The problem is so far-reaching it's hard to know where to start cleaning it up. But UK-based startup Ellipsis Earth believes it can help.
Using drones fitted with cameras, Ellipsis maps the location of plastic pollution. Through computer software and image recognition, it's then able to identify the type of plastic, its size, and in some cases, even the brand or origin of the trash. This data can be used to inform solutions.
"We would be able to find out that 'Beach X' has a ton of fishing nets and discarded lobster traps, whereas 'Beach Y' has a ton of hygiene and sanitation wet wipes," says Ellie Mackay, Ellipsis founder and CEO.
For the Beach X scenario, "we need to speak to the fishing industry and get some regulation around dumping of ghost nets," she tells CNN. Whereas for Beach Y, "it's about educating people not to flush things down the toilet and speaking to local sewage outlets."
The technology allows Ellipsis to carry out a survey in a matter of minutes -- much faster than the typical method on foot.
Mapping the world
The startup, which was officially founded in 2019 following several years of research and development, has undertaken projects all over the world -- from the UK coastline to the banks of the Ganges river in India.
The project that hit home most for Mackay was in the Galapagos Islands, roughly 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador. "There are coastlines there that have not changed since [Charles] Darwin set foot on those beaches, all those years ago," she says. "The only difference -- the only evidence that man exists -- is in the plastic all over the beaches."