Here's How to Hold Brands Accountable for the Plastic Waste They Create

Take your beach cleanup to the next level: conduct a brand audit.

As the momentum builds around the movement to rid our planet and our waterways of the endless stream of plastic generated by our throwaway society, community beach cleanups have gained in popularity in recent years. An opportunity for people to come together and clean the trash - big and small - from their beloved beaches, there’s nothing more satisfying than restoring a litter strewn environment back to its pristine state.

Except maybe preventing that litter from arriving there in the first place. For the truth is, it really doesn’t matter how diligent we are in our cleanup efforts if the steady stream of trash coming from our coffee shops, our super markets and our big box stores continues. As long as corporations are free to distribute their products in harmful single-use packaging and have no responsibility to properly dispose of them, the trash will keep coming back and will continue to choke our waterways.

This is why we need to incorporate brand audits into our beach cleanups - to hold corporations responsible for the waste they create and advocate for government policies that make them accountable for it.

What is a brand audit and how does it work? A brand audit is a beach cleanup that investigates the type and manufacturers of the branded plastic trash collected in order to expose who the real litterbugs are. And on #WorldCleanupDay (September 15), The Story of Stuff’s #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement is asking those participating in cleanup efforts worldwide to incorporate such brand audits into their cleanups and ask big brands online #IsThisYours?

Our waste and brand audits are a fun and easy way to get involved to help protect waterways and green spaces in your community.  - Greenpeace Canada

If in the future you want to organize your own cleanup and brand audit, this is how it works (if you are joining one tomorrow, the organizers will have already done steps 1 through 3 and you’ll be helping with steps 4 and 5!):

1) Make a waste disposal plan. Decide ahead of time what you will do with all the trash you collect. Divide it into recyclables, compostables, and waste. It's the waste category that you’ll be mostly working with in the brand audit.

2) Get protective gear. Use tongs, bins, bags, and buckets for collection, and printed Brand Audit forms on a clipboard (available via Break Free From Plastic’s Brand Audit Toolkit).

3) Choose your location. The size should be relative to the number of volunteers and the boundaries laid out clearly ahead of time. Take before and after photos.

4) Record your data. You can choose between two methods for this part. The first method is to gather all collected waste and separate the plastics. Divide the plastics into piles by type, then divide those piles into groups by brand. The second method involves categorizing the items as you collect them. Have a group of people picking up trash, while another group records what the pickers are finding on the Brand Audit form.

5) Hold brands accountable! Here comes the important (and fun!) part - after you've cleaned up the area and disposed of collected waste, share pictures on social media of brand-specific trash and tag the manufacturers. Use the hashtags #isthisyours and #breakfreefromplastic in your posts. We would advise taking this a step further by also tagging your local politicians so they become aware that holding corporations accountable is something voters want (learn more about why this is important). Then Enter all the data you collected into the online data form to help paint a bigger picture of the situation.

Find a beach cleanup near you via The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup!

Looking for ways to educate others on the dangers of single-use plastics?

Use our Water Docs Where-You-Live program to host your own community screening of BIRTHPLACE, a film that tells the symbolic story of a man arriving on a perfect earth, who encounters his nemesis in the form of ocean trash. This can be screened alongside THE MAKING OF BIRTHPLACE, takes viewers on the journey behind the scenes of the making of the music video BIRTHPLACE and shares the filmmakers' passion for getting this story out to the world and the urgency behind its compelling message. 

These two films are a hauntingly beautiful meditation on our relationship to water and our responsibility to do more to curb our unhealthy reliance on single-use plastic.

Water Docs Where-You-Live brings people together, sparks conversations and inspires people to take #ActionForWater. You select a film(s) and we help you organize your event. Get involved!