Break Free From Plastic, the global movement working to stop plastic pollution for good, is taking cleanups a step further: by highlighting the solutions that solve the problem and naming the brands most responsible for undermining these solutions.
Communities across the world are taking matters into their own hands to create solutions focused on reduction of plastic pollution. Leaders from Indonesia to Italy are supporting new business models using community-based reuse and refill systems. Even as this groundbreaking work is growing, corporations like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Starbucks, and McDonald’s have continued to pump unmanageable plastic waste into these same communities. We are sold coffee, soda, chips, candy, sandwiches, shampoo, soap, and even fruits and vegetables packaged in throwaway plastic. It’s time for all corporations to support our communities by investing in alternatives and phasing out single-use plastic. Don’t you agree?
In 2018, thousands of people across the world performed 239 brand audits to call out the world’s top polluters, resulting in Volume 1 of the “BRANDED” report. By categorizing and counting branded plastic packaging during a cleanup or collection effort, they’ll helped identify the corporations most responsible for plastic pollution.
This year, this project is even bigger, with more audits, more data collected, and more impactful stories to tell. Find out below how you can be a part of this worldwide movement to stand up and say, “Enough is enough” on plastic pollution.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN: WHAT CAN BE RECYCLED?
It’s important that corporations know what they’re sending to your city that can’t be recycled. So do some initial research to find out what your city does and does not recycle locally. You can usually find this information on city, county, or province websites, from local recycling organizations, or even at local libraries or other information centers. Maybe you can even contact your local Materials Recovery Facility to check with them directly what they do or do not recycle locally.
The data card and app will ask you if the items you collected can be recycled locally, so please make sure you know!
STEP 1: MAKE A PLAN
First, it is important to make a waste deposit plan. Think ahead on how to properly dispose of all waste from your clean-up or collection activity, including plastics and all other materials. For example, recyclable materials should go to material recovery and/or recycling facilities, and biodegradable wastes could be set aside for composting.
Waste that cannot be recycled or composted locally (i.e. residual waste) is especially important. Hint: these are the brands you want to identify!
When your cleanup is done, this residual must be put in a landfill…or you can box it up and ship it back to the headquarters of the brands on the labels. You can also share images of that residual waste on social media, tag the brands, and tag it with #IsThisYours.
STEP 2: CHOOSE YOUR SITE
Will you be doing a clean-up outdoors with lots of volunteers or just a small group? Will you be collecting single-use items at your home or office to audit the plastic in your own life? Are you cleaning up plastic pollution out on the water with a kayak and a net? Choose the site that works best for you (it’s all useful!), and use our guidelines below for each one. Make sure you take a “before” picture to document what you’re about to audit!
Once you know where you’ll be collecting or cleaning up items for your cleanup, be sure to take note of its latitude and longitude. You can either use an app on your mobile phone, or you can enter the address into this helpful site – make a note of it, either way!
STEP 3: PREPARE YOUR SUPPLIES
You’ll need different kinds of tools and gear for your audit, depending on what kind of collection you’re doing.
IF YOU’RE COLLECTING OUTDOORS…
Make sure to choose a site of a size reasonable for the number of volunteers you have.
If you’ll be out on the water in a kayak or small vessel, the best way to grab pollution is with a medium sized net. You can then collect it all in bags or bins affixed to your vessel, and the auditing and counting at the end once you’re back on land.
Make sure you have the proper gear on hand to protect yourself and your volunteers:
- Protective gloves, tongs, and/or nets for all volunteers
- Collection bins, bags, or buckets (make sure they’re all a standard size!)
- Printed brand audit data cards, along with pens / pencils & clipboards
Be sure to then take an “after” photo of the site to share your progress with our community by tagging the location and #breakfreefromplastic!
IF YOU’RE COLLECTING IN YOUR HOME OR OFFICE…
Avoid digging around in yucky days-old wet garbage – especially if you’re in a shared office! Instead, if you’re going to audit your home or office, designate a separate collection bin or bag for all the single-use packaging and products you use, and collect them all in that bin for 7 days. At the end of those 7 days, take an audit of everything in that collection bin, and record all the waste and brands on the data card.
Be sure to let your house or office mates know what you’re doing, either through a sign or just by telling them one-on-one. Not only will it stop them from throwing away your collected waste before you’ve audited it, but you can also start a conversation about solutions to plastic pollution!
Want to kick it up a notch? Get your entire block or neighborhood to participate in this brand audit! Set an ‘event day’ to do one big brand audit all at once at a local community center or park. Make sure you have a plan for waste disposal, and use this handy guide from the Mother Earth Foundation for more tips.
STEP 4: KNOW YOUR DATA CARD
You and your volunteers should know how to complete the data card or count plastic pollution through the app, so make sure you review this information well before your audit day.
Include the information below about each plastic item. Download the Brand Audit Form pdf and use this form to follow these steps:
- Enter the name of the brand. (Hint: This will be the most visible word printed on the item!)
- Enter the item description. (Is it a water bottle? A toothbrush? The cradle of an old telephone?)
- Circle the type of product. (Water bottle? Food packaging. Toothbrush? Personal care. Old telephone cradle? Household products.)
- Circle the type of material. (Bottle? Probably PET. Toothbrush? That depends – probably unknown. Telephone cradle? If you find the number inside the chasing arrows, you’ll know!)
- Circle the number of layers the product has. (Is it a food wrapper, or one of those pouch / sachet things that shampoo and detergent come in? Those are usually multi-layer. If you’re not sure, circle ‘unsure’!)
- Finally, check the box if that product is accepted for recycling by your local waste management. (Hint: Suggestions on how to find that information are above.👆
Download the helpful visual guide to help you identify the types of product and material for each piece of trash you find. Pollution with unidentifiable brands should still be listed and classified by product and material type, if known.
STEP 5: MAKE A PLAN FOR YOUR DATA
We have both a printable data card to record the data by hand and the Trashblitz app to record the data digitally. Even if you use the printable data card, you will still need to report the data through the Trashblitz app after your cleanup. (Maybe after you’ve had a chance to wash your hands and get back to wifi!)
Regardless of which one you use, you can do the count by:
- Gathering all collected waste together, and counting at the end. Divide all collected items into piles by type, and then divide each of those piles into groups by brand. Count all of the pieces, and record their descriptions, material types, and local recyclability on the Brand Audit Form or in the app.
- Categorize the items by brand as you collect them. Have each volunteer team record the item descriptions and tally them as they’re collecting trash. Two or three people can be collecting items and calling out brands they find them, while a third person marks the tally (on the data card or the app), adding tally marks for each branded piece of pollution as it’s put into the collection bins or bags.
The first method is easiest if you are cleaning up a large area with a huge amount of waste (i.e. piles of waste, shovel-fulls at a time), while the second method is easier for coastal or [city] clean-ups with fewer or more isolated pieces of waste.
STEP 6: YOU’RE READY!
- Collect all the waste in your designated site area.
STEP 7: LET’S GET SOCIAL
Take photos of the piles of plastic from each brand and post it to social media. Tag the manufacturer and don’t forget to use the hashtag #breakfreefromplastic!
STEP 8: NOW CLEAN IT UP!
Clean the audit area carefully and properly, remembering to leave the site cleaner than before you started.
STEP 10: RETURN TO SENDER
If you have the resources to do so, box up the branded items and send it back to the manufacturer. Include a letter to the company describing the purpose of your brand audit and urge them to #breakfreefromplastic!
Done with your Brand Audit?
Send us your data.
What Are We Doing With This Data?
Through brand audits, #breakfreefromplastic aims to hold polluting corporations accountable, to drive calls for innovations in product packaging and waste management, and to bring people together who want to take action for a future where beach and community clean-ups are a thing of the past. Find out which companies are responsible for most of the plastic waste collected around the globe!
Special thanks to #breakfreefromplastic member groups: Mother Earth Foundation, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Ecowaste Coalition, Health Care Without Harm – Asia, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group and others, for developing and piloting the brand audit tool as part of their coastal clean-up events in September 2017.