Global Week of Action: Host a Brand Audit!

Thanks for your interest in hosting a brand audit as part of the #breakfreefromplastic global week of action, September 10-16 2018. This page is intended to share more about what a brand audit is, how it fits into the global strategy to end plastic pollution, and what’s involved in organizing a brand audit in your community. If you’d prefer, you can watch a recording of the livestream we held to review this same information.

Once you decide that you would like to organize a brand audit, you can register your event with us at this page! Thank you.

If you’re reading this, you probably share our concern about plastic pollution – but we’re going to start by reviewing how we talk about that issue, to make sure we’re all on the same page.

Let’s talk about plastic pollution.

Much of the conversation about plastic pollution focuses on waste in the ocean – we’ve all seen the heartbreaking images of a turtle stuck in a six-pack ring or a seabird with a stomach full of plastic. And truly, what is happening to our oceans is deeply worrying – but it’s also just one part of the story.

In reality, plastic pollutes at every step – not just when it enters the environment. Plastic begins its life as fossil fuels, so when we’re talking about plastic we also have the talk about the risks and consequences of fossil fuels – from fracking pollution to leaky pipelines. After the extraction step is production – and here, too, we see pollution. The plants that produce plastic and its various chemical ingredients release a variety of pollutants, poisoning the surrounding communities. What’s more, these facilities tend to be located in low-income and other marginalized communities, where people may lack the political power to fight back.

So clearly, plastic pollution isn’t just about plastic in the ocean – there’s a broad upstream impact, long before plastic gets thrown out.

What about disposal? How is plastic ending up in the ocean and the environment? Big Plastic wants us to blame individual litterbugs, or for citizens of the Global North to point the finger at countries in the Global South. In reality, countries in the developing world are being flooded with low-value plastic that can’t be recycled – much of it being produced by multinational corporations like Nestlé, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever. And because these countries don’t have the same type of waste collection infrastructure – like curbside trash pickup – that we enjoy in countries like the U.S., there is nowhere for that waste to end up except the environment.

What’s more, for decades countries in the Global North have been exporting their trash to Asian nations. Valuable recyclables get sorted out, but again the low- and no-value plastic gets burned or released into the environment, eventually ending up in the ocean.

In either case, the multinational corporations that produce and sell single-use, low- and no-value plastic that can’t get recycled bear ultimate responsibility for what happens to their products at the end of its life. These multinational corporations are the real litterbugs that need to be held accountable.

But despite the fact that 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year, Big Plastic plans to grow production by 40% over the next decade. We have a crisis on our hands – a crisis that is disproportionately impacting frontline communities and citizens in the Global South.

That’s why the global #breakfreefromplastic movement has developed a unified strategy to take on Big Plastic and create a future free from plastic pollution.

What is #BreakFreeFromPlastic?

#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement of almost 1300 organizations with a unified strategy to end plastic pollution. One of the main pillars of that strategy is to reduce the amount of plastic being produced, with a focus on low- and no-value plastics.

First, we need to identify the products and packaging that most often ends up in the environment as plastic pollution. To do so, a #breakfreefromplastic member group based in the Philippines – Eco-waste Coalition – developed a strategy called a brand audit. Now, organizations around the world are mobilizing to conduct brand audits under the banner of the #breakfreefromplastic movement in order to create a global data set that will help us hold companies accountable for their waste.

But for this strategy to succeed, we need to organize brand audits all around the world. That’s why we’re asking our global community to organize a brand audit where they live!

How does a brand audit work?

A brand audit is like a litter cleanup with a healthy dose of citizen science. At a brand audit, volunteers collect all the litter they can find in a public place like a beach, a park, or a roadway. Then, they audit all the plastic they find to identify what brand and material it is. That data will be shared to create a global snapshot of plastic pollution. Finally, The Story of Stuff Project and our #breakfreefromplastic movement partners will use this data to bring accountability to the companies who make and distribute all that plastic trash.

You can do a brand audit by yourself – but even better is to organize a public event. By doing so, you’ll be joining the #breakfreefromplastic movement’s global week of action, with events happening from San Francisco to São Paulo to Surabaya.

What does it take to organize and run a brand audit?

Hosting a brand audit in your community entails four key responsibilities: Plan, Prepare, Promote, and Run The Show!

Plan: Choose a location, date, and time for your event. The location needs to be a public place where it is safe and legal to hold your event, and where there is waste to collect. This could be a beach, a park, or a roadway. You’ll want to check out the space beforehand to make sure that it is accessible, safe, and that there is plastic trash to collect there. You’ll also want to pick a meeting point where volunteers can assemble at the start of the event, and consider questions like parting if it’s a place where people will be driving.

Prepare: Review the “Organizing a Brand Audit” guide, which we will send to all the event hosts, and gather all the supplies that you’ll need. The three most important supplies are 1) rubber gloves for volunteers to handle waste, 2) printouts of the data sheet included in the guide to record the data of the waste you collect, plus pens, pencils, and clipboards, and 3) trash bags to dispose of the waste you collect at the end of your event.

Promote: We’ll be inviting all of the members of The Story of Stuff Project community to find and join a brand audit near them. But although we are a global community, we are also a U.S.-based organization, so our audience does skew more American. If you’re planning an event outside of the U.S., or in a less- densely populated area, we may not have many other people near you who will receive our invitation to join your event. Therefore, you’ll want to reach out to local environmental groups, volunteer and civic organizations, schools, and so on. It’s a great way to get more people involved in system-level solutions to the plastic problem!

Run the show: On the day of the event, it will be your responsibility to make sure that everything goes smoothly. You’ll want to arrive before any of the volunteers start showing up. Explain to people what you’re doing, and why – we’ll include a sample script in the “Organizing a Brand Audit” guide.

You may want to divide people into two groups – one group to collect waste, and one group to audit it; or, the whole crew can collect together, then run the audit together. You can designate a period of time for the cleanup – say, one hour to collect all the waste in sight; or, set some boundaries and collect all the waste in that area.

Although we’re interested in collecting data about plastic waste, you’ll want to collect all the waste that you find. We want to leave these areas looking beautiful – and much of the waste you’ll find is probably plastic, anyway.

The three data points we aim to capture for each piece of plastic trash is 1) brand, 2) type (household product, food packaging, or personal care product) and 3) material. You may not be able to get all three data points for every item – that’s OK! just identify as much as possible. Again, we’ll include more specific information and guides for identifying plastic in the “Organizing a Brand Audit” guide.

We’d also love for you to take lots of pictures, of volunteers at work and of the plastic waste you find. You can share those photos with us (be sure to let us know if you’re OK with them being published online). You can also tweet at the companies whose products you find! Be sure to use the hashtag #breakfreefromplastic and #isthisyours when tweeting at brands.

Finally, at the end of the event, make sure that all of the waste you collect gets recycled if possible – or otherwise safely disposed of.

I’m ready to organize a brand audit. What’s next?

Take some time to think about whether you’re able to commit to hosting a brand audit in your community – and when and where it would be. Remember, the global week of action is from September 10-15.

Starting on Wednesday, August 16, we’ll open up a signup page where you can share the details of your event. Your event won’t be live right away – first, it needs to be approved The Story of Stuff Project staff. The reason for this is that if we have multiple events in the same area, we’ll put the hosts in touch with one another to see if they want to consolidate their events. We may also put event hosts – especially those outside of the U.S. – in touch with other local environmental groups that are part of the #breakfreefromplastic movement.

We’ll be staying in close contact with all the brand audit hosts, checking in to make sure that your preparation is going smoothly. We’re also available to talk to you about how to make your event a success! Whether your a veteran organizer or new to this type of thing, this is a great opportunity to take system-level action to tackle this problem – and we want to support you however we can.

Starting a couple weeks before the global week of action kicks off, we’ll start inviting our whole global community to find an event near them. You’ll be able to see how many people are signing up for your event, and send them updates and reminder from your event host dashboard. 

Thank you!

Thank you for being part of our community and for taking action with us to end plastic pollution. We hope you’ll join this global week of action! If you have any questions, you can connect with us at – we’re here to help! Let’s keep making change together.

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