A brand audit is a citizen science initiative that involves counting and recording the brands found on plastic waste to help identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution. It is also a record of the most common plastic polymers being produced and discarded.
This method was designed by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Mother Earth Foundation, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), and Greenpeace Philippines. These pioneering groups collaborated in 2017 to organize the first large-scale brand audit on Freedom Island in the Philippines.
Why is it important?
Evidence from initiatives such as the brand audit and the OSPAR survey have been used to drive legislation such as the plastic bag tax, bans on single-use plastic items, and to advocate for policy change through Extended Producer Responsibility (or Polluter Pay initiatives) such as the Deposit Return Scheme. In big and small ways, brand audit data is a powerful tool to create change, whether at a local level, nationally or even internationally.
How is it done?
Strandliners have been carrying out brand audits after a litter pick for many years, with #BreakFreeFromPlastic, and most recently, with the Preventing Plastic Pollution project.
But you can carry out an audit of your waste at home (or even at work).
We are asking you to count and record every single piece of plastic packaging waste that you throw out – that’s plastic waste that you put in the bin and plastic you put in the recycling. Try to count anything you throw away while you are out of the home too.
Some people like to tally up each piece of plastic as they go along, whereas others find it easier to save up all of their plastic over the course of the day or week (storing it in a bag or box) and then tally it up in one go – it’s totally up to you which you do!
We are not asking you to upload your data, but to carry out an audit as an awareness activity, and to think about ways you might be able to use less plastic. You could repeat the activity in a month or two, to see if you have reduced your plastic waste. Just one or two small changes can make a difference.
Please remember, this isn’t about feeling guilty about the amount of plastic you use! Some may be essential, especially for people who have medical needs. The problem is that too much single-use plastic is produced and there aren’t reusable alternatives that suit everyone’s needs.
Method 1: #BreakFreeFromPlastic
#BreakFreeFromPlastic has a dedicated Brand Audit website, with all the resources needed, but you can also find the data card (the sheet needed for recording) and the visual guide (to help you identify categories and plastic polymers) here.
They have also produced a short video to help you get started.
Summary of the video
Follow these steps below to record the information about each plastic item on the data card. Use the 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, such as Twix, .
2. Enter the item description.
For example water bottle, bread wrapper, washing-up liquid bottle.
3. Circle the type of product.
Refer to the key on the data card for abbreviations, e.g. water bottle = FP for food packaging, washing-up liquid bottle = HP for household products.
4. Circle the type of material.
Refer to the key on the data card for abbreviations. If you find the number inside the chasing arrows, you’ll know, but many items are not marked. A soft drink bottle is probably PET, a milk bottle HDPE. The visual guide may help.
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. If it is a crisp packet, or pouch of cat food, those are usually multiple layers bonded together, ML.
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.
You can put items with the same brand, item description, type of product together. For example, if you have 6 identical Coke bottles, you will have one row with 6 tally marks in the count column.
7. Add up all the tally marks,
and write the total number of identical items in the final column.
After you have completed your brand audit dispose all of your waste appropriately. Recycle everything possible. It may not be the answer to the plastic crisis, but it is all we have at the moment.
If this seems a little complicated…
Method 2: The Big Plastic Count
There is a simpler recording method, as used by Greenpeace in The Big Plastic Count in 2022.
As before, we are asking you to count and record every single piece of plastic waste that you throw out as before, but this method does not ask you to record polymers or layers, and items are divided into simpler categories.
We are not asking you to upload your data – this was a pilot project from last year – but this can be used as an awareness activity, and repeated later to see if you have reduced your plastic waste.
You can download the recording form here.
There is also a booklet with ideas and tips.
One important point to remember is that we should not just throw out all our plastic item, but use them carefully until the end of their life and consider how (or even if) we replace them. Small changes really do make a difference. As zero-waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau said,