BRAND AUDIT TOOLKIT

Mobilizing citizen science volunteers around the world with a common mission to hold companies accountable for their plastic packaging – because plastic pollution has never been an issue of consumer responsibility alone. To change the system, we need everyone on board. Join us!

What is a brand audit?

Break Free From Plastic’s brand audits is a citizen science initiative that involves counting and documenting the brands found on plastic waste collected at a cleanup to help identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution.

BACKGROUND

Break Free From Plastic is taking litter cleanups a step further by documenting the brands found on plastic waste collected at a cleanup. This helps us identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution. No matter how hard we try to avoid buying plastic and no matter how much we recycle, it will never be enough. The rate companies extract fossil fuels to manufacture more plastic packaging will always undermine our individual efforts. To truly solve the plastic problem, we are calling on these companies to stop producing so much unnecessary single-use plastic in the first place. Instead, we urge these companies to move towards real solutions that eliminate the need for single-use plastic packaging altogether.

And that’s where brand audits come in.

Communities around the world are taking matters into their own hands to create solutions focused on reduction of plastic pollution by targeting those who make and sell products. People are supporting new business models using community-based reuse and refill systems. Alternative delivery systems are popping up everywhere, eliminating our reliance on single-use plastic packaging. And extended producer responsibility laws are requiring companies to pay the full cost for the collection and waste treatment at the end of life of their products. 

Even as this groundbreaking work is growing, companies have continued to pump unmanageable single-use plastic waste into these same communities. We are sold coffee, drinks, snacks, sandwiches, shampoo, soap, and even fruits and vegetables packaged in single-use plastic. It’s time for all companies to support our communities by investing in alternatives and phasing out single-use plastic once and for all. 

Since 2018, thousands of BFFP members across the world have performed hundreds of brand audits to call out the world’s top polluters, resulting in Volumes 1 and 2 of the “BRANDED” report. By categorizing and counting branded plastic packaging during a cleanup or collection effort, they have helped identify the companies most responsible for plastic pollution globally. Now it’s your turn to join the action! Read below for a step-by-step guide to conduct a #BreakFreeFromPlastic brand audit and become a part of this worldwide movement to stand up and say, “Enough is enough” on plastic pollution.

Brand Audit Public Events

Join a brand audit in your area, or register one of your own!

OUR GOALS

Through brand audits, Break Free From Plastic is working towards several long term goals.

1. Shift the narrative. By collecting data on plastic waste, we strengthen our ability to change the story we have been told about who is responsible for the plastic problem and how to solve it. With brand audits, we shift the narrative of responsibility back to the companies that created the plastic problem to expose their false solutions and demand real change.

    1. 2. Hold plastic polluting companies accountable. To truly end plastic pollution, we must call on companies to stop producing so much unnecessary single-use plastic in the first place. In our annual brand audit report, we reveal the data showing which companies were found to pollute the most places with the most plastics. This holds the top polluting companies accountable for their leading role in the plastic pollution crisis. 

3. Build a global movement. Movement building is key to shifting policies, companies, and culture. Our campaigns rely on people power to stand up to powerful companies. We are committed to building a strong, diverse, resilient and inclusive movement that represents those who seek a future free from plastic pollution, from one end of the plastic pipeline to the other.

STEPS TO CONDUCT A BRAND AUDIT

Time to flex your muscles and end plastic pollution by collecting high quality data on the brands you find on trash! Please sign up to participate in a training session and read through all the steps below before you begin your brand audit. Let us know you plan to participate this year by signing up here and registering your event!

STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR SITE

Choose the site that works best for you and your community needs. Make sure to choose a site of a size reasonable for the number of volunteers you have. For small groups, we recommend a smaller area with less waste, while bigger groups can spread out in larger areas that have more waste. If you are doing a brand audit on your own, consider auditing the plastics in your home or office. Like the famous saying goes, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

Things to think about when choosing a site: Will you be doing a clean-up outdoors with lots of volunteers or a small group? Will you be collecting single-use items disposed of in 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, or on the sidewalks in a city?  Whether your clean-up and brand audit will be outdoors or indoors, it is important that you plan ahead to get permission from the appropriate local authorities to host your event.

STEP 2: MAKE A WASTE DISPOSAL PLAN

First, it is important to make a waste disposal plan. Think ahead about how to properly dispose of all the waste from your clean-up or collection activity. You are welcome to collect non-plastic waste, but please keep plastics separate for the purpose of this plastic-only brand audit! After you have completed your brand audit, prepare to dispose all of your waste appropriately:

◾ Recyclable materials should go to your local material recovery and/or recycling facilities. 

Biodegradable wastes could be set aside for composting. 

Waste that cannot be recycled or composted locally (residual waste) must be put in a landfill once you have finished your cleanup. You may need to contact your local waste authority to arrange this.

And a special extra step for branded plastic: You can box it up and ship it back to the company headquarters of the labeled brand! Skip ahead to Step 10 for details 🙂

STEP 2: MAKE A WASTE DISPOSAL PLAN

First, it is important to make a waste disposal plan. Think ahead about how to properly dispose of all the waste from your clean-up or collection activity. You are welcome to collect non-plastic waste, but please keep plastics separate for the purpose of this plastic-only brand audit! After you have completed your brand audit, prepare to dispose all of your waste appropriately:

◾ Recyclable materials should go to your local material recovery and/or recycling facilities. 

Biodegradable wastes could be set aside for composting. 

Waste that cannot be recycled or composted locally (residual waste) must be put in a landfill once you have finished your cleanup. You may need to contact your local waste authority to arrange this.

And a special extra step for branded plastic: You can box it up and ship it back to the company headquarters of the labeled brand! Skip ahead to Step 10 for details 🙂

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. But no matter where you are collecting and auditing, be sure to bring printed brand audit data cards and visual guides, along with pens / pencils & clipboards.

IF YOU’RE COLLECTING OUTDOORS… 

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 do 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 
  • A large tarp or an old sheet (a place for sorting your items, to avoid making a mess!) 

IF YOU’RE COLLECTING INDOORS… 

If you’re going to audit your home, school, or office, designate a separate collection bin or bag for all the plastic packaging and products you dispose of during a week, and collect them all in that bin for 7 days. Make sure to clean and dry these items before disposing of them. At the end of those 7 days, take an audit of everything in the collection bin, and record what you find on the brand audit data card.

Be sure to let your housemates, classmates, or colleagues know what you’re doing. We recommend hanging a sign above your plastic collection bin (click here for a template!) and telling them one-on-one. It will stop them from throwing away your collected waste before you’ve audited it, and you can also start a conversation about solutions to plastic pollution!

STEP 4: KNOW YOUR DATA CARD

You and your volunteers should know how to complete the data card before your clean-up and brand audit day. If you are the event leader, join one of the online training sessions. If you are a volunteer participant, please watch this short video tutorial!

After your training, print the Brand Audit Data Card and follow these steps to record the information below about each plastic item. Use this helpful visual guide to identify the type of product and type of material for each piece of plastic trash you find.

1. Enter the name of the brand*. This will be the most visible word printed on the item. Plastic waste items with unidentifiable brands should still be counted. You can simply write “Unknown” in the column labelled “Brand” for these unidentifiable items, and then record the other information required.

Please note that the brand name is usually different from the manufacturer or parent company. Don’t worry about this for now. We are specifically looking for the brand name here.

After our team analyzes all the brand audit data we receive, we will reveal the parent companies behind these brands.

2. Enter the item description. Is it a water bottle? A cigarette butt? A plastic fragment?

3. Circle the type of product. Refer to the key on the bottom left of the data card for the appropriate abbreviations. (Water bottle = FP for “Food Packaging”. Cigarette butt = SM for “Smoking Materials”.)

4. Circle the type of material. Refer to the key on the bottom right of the data card for the appropriate abbreviations.  If you find the number inside the chasing arrows, you’ll know! (Bottle? Probably PET. Cigarette butt? O for “Other type of plastic”.)

5. Circle the number of layers the item has. If it is clearly made of one kind of material, like a plastic bag, circle SL for “single layer.” Is it a food wrapper, or one of those pouch / sachet things that shampoo and detergent come in? Those are usually multi-layer. You can try tearing the material, or cutting it with scissors, to see if there are multiple layers. If you’re not sure, circle ‘unsure’.

6. Write one tally mark for this item, and add another tally each time you find another item that matches it in all categories. (Same brand, item description, type of product, type of material, and layers.) For example, if you find 8 identical Coca Cola bottles, you will have one row with information about this bottle type and 8 tally marks in the column labelled “Count.”

7. Add up all the tally marks, and write the total number of identical items in the final column labelled “Total.”

8. If the information for any of these categories is not identifiable, please leave it blank or write “Unknown.” Do your best to deduce the appropriate information with the help of our visual guide. DO NOT make up false information.

STEP 5: ORGANIZE YOUR DATA RECORDING TEAM

Depending on the size of your cleanup event, you can organize your brand audit volunteers in a few different ways. Here are two recommendations.

  1. 1. Big events: Gather all collected plastics together, and count at the end. Divide all collected items into piles by item (bottles, bags, cups, etc), and then divide each of those piles into groups by brand. Count all of the pieces, and record their descriptions, material types, and layers on the Brand Audit Form. This 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). Additionally, it helps to divide large events so that the cleanup and audit take place simultaneously. For example, if your event is scheduled for two hours, the cleanup team brings the plastic waste they collect every 30 minutes to the audit volunteers, so that they can record the data while the others continue to gather more waste.


Pro Tip: If you have enough audit volunteers, assign one person for each item. For example, one volunteer to be in charge of recording data about bottles, another in charge of cups, etc. 

  1. 2. Small events: Categorize the items by brand as you collect them. Have each volunteer team record the item descriptions and tally them at the same time as they are collecting plastics. Two or three people can be collecting items and calling out brands they find, while another person marks the tally on the data card, adding tally marks for each branded piece of plastic as it is put into the collection bins or bags. This method is easier for smaller clean-ups with fewer or more isolated pieces of waste.

STEP 5: ORGANIZE YOUR DATA RECORDING TEAM

Depending on the size of your cleanup event, you can organize your brand audit volunteers in a few different ways. Here are two recommendations.

  1. 1. Big events: Gather all collected plastics together, and count at the end. Divide all collected items into piles by item (bottles, bags, cups, etc), and then divide each of those piles into groups by brand. Count all of the pieces, and record their descriptions, material types, and layers on the Brand Audit Form. This 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). Additionally, it helps to divide large events so that the cleanup and audit take place simultaneously. For example, if your event is scheduled for two hours, the cleanup team brings the plastic waste they collect every 30 minutes to the audit volunteers, so that they can record the data while the others continue to gather more waste.


Pro Tip: If you have enough audit volunteers, assign one person for each item. For example, one volunteer to be in charge of recording data about bottles, another in charge of cups, etc. 

  1. 2. Small events: Categorize the items by brand as you collect them. Have each volunteer team record the item descriptions and tally them at the same time as they are collecting plastics. Two or three people can be collecting items and calling out brands they find, while another person marks the tally on the data card, adding tally marks for each branded piece of plastic as it is put into the collection bins or bags. This method is easier for smaller clean-ups with fewer or more isolated pieces of waste.

STEP 6: COLLECTION TIME!

Collect all the waste in your designated site area.

Please keep in mind that the process of sorting and auditing your plastic waste will take some time – approximately one hour per large garbage bag, depending on how many volunteers you have. It’s a good idea to plan ahead so your volunteer team knows that a brand audit requires a bit of patience!

STEP 7: LET’S GET SOCIAL

Take a “before” picture to document what you’re about to audit! Later, take an “after” photo of the site to share your progress with our community by tagging the location and #breakfreefromplastic! You can also take photos of the piles of plastic from each brand and post it to social media. Tag the company and don’t forget to use the hashtag #breakfreefromplastic! Check out our social media guide for more tips.

STEP 8: NOW CLEAN IT UP!

Clean the audit area carefully and properly, remembering to leave the site cleaner than before you started. Refer to your waste deposit plan (from Step 1, remember?) to properly dispose of your recyclables, compost, and residual waste.

STEP 9: SEND IN THE DATA

In order for your awesome work to be available to others and used in our global database for the annual “BRANDED” report, enter your data digitally to submit it to our team. We have three options available, so please choose the platform that best suits your needs. Please note that for the 2020 global brand audit, the deadline to submit your data is October 15, 2020. Any data received late will not be included in this year’s annual report.

1. TrashBlitz. This option is best suited for small audits of up to 5 people and no more than 2 bags. The cool thing about TrashBlitz is that your data is automatically saved as you enter it in, and you will receive a digital summary file of your data by email once you submit. Plus, it’s been gamified to make the process more fun 🙂 Please always use the same name and email when submitting your data, as each submission will count as one event.

2. BFFP Online Data Submission Form. This option is best suited for medium audits of up to 15 people and approximately 5 bags. It’s very easy to use, and you will also receive a digital summary file of your data by email after submitting. The only tricky thing is this platform has a limit of 60 data entries per form submission, so keep that in mind when you decide which platform to use. If you have more than 60 data entries, we recommend the BFFP Excel Sheet.

3. BFFP Excel Sheet. This option is ideal for larger audits because there is no limit to the amount of data you can enter! Plus, you can work offline which makes it easier if you need to save and resume later. You can also keep an original copy of your data for yourself. This Excel sheet has been programmed to autocomplete certain entries when possible, to make the data entry process easier for you. Please note that any changes to the format will result in your data being unusable, due to data merging limitations. This BFFP Excel sheet is available upon request by emailing brandaudit@breakfreefromplastic.org. Please send your completed sheet back to this same email address before the deadline.

Any data received in formatting different from one of these three options will not be included in our annual report. This is due to the difficulty of merging databases in formats that are not compatible.

STEP 10: RETURN TO SENDER

If you have the resources to do so, box up the branded plastic items and send them back to the company that made them! Include a letter to the company describing the purpose of your brand audit and urge them to #breakfreefromplastic! You can also share images of that branded plastic waste on social media, tag the brands, and tag it with #IsThisYours. (Please email us your “Return to Sender” story, so we can support you and share on BFFP social media! Write to brandaudit@breakfreefromplastic.org)

Questions?

Please check out this Frequently Asked Questions document! If you still have questions, send us an email: brandaudit@breakfreefromplastic.org

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