UVA Students' Winning Environmental Idea

Aug 15, 2020

Plastic is a growing problem in the world’s waterways, but four students have come up with a way to create custom clean-up plans.

They crafted their proposal as part of a national business contest – beating 1,200 other students for the grand prize.

Credit UVA

The Waterkeepers Alliance claims to be the world’s largest and fastest-growing non-profit committed to clean water – a network of 300 groups.  One of their biggest problems lately is the accumulation of plastic. The group approached a giant consulting company – Accenture – for advice, and that firm asked college students to offer innovative solutions as part of an annual competition. 

At the University of Virginia, Danielle Romeo teamed up with Sebastian Wasinger, Lorena Tabrane and Maxwell St. John.

“We proposed a model for an image database in which we would work with artificial intelligence to organize and analyze these photos to create customized clean-up plans for their region,” Romeo explains. 

The process would begin, Wasinger says, with Waterkeeper volunteers.

“Just about every person in these communities has a phone, and they have some sort of access to the Internet. They can all go and take pictures.”

Using those photos, artificial intelligence would figure out what kind of plastic was accumulating and where.

“Volunteers are able to go to those areas to have the most impact,” he says. 

Because their proposal used existing technology and could be adapted to very different communities, Accenture named the UVA team the winner, hiring all four students for paid internships this summer.