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After hoarding our plastic trash for a week, the PLAN team successfully completed a brand audit. We tracked plastic type and the brands they originated from, then submitted our data to the Break Free from Plastic campaign’s global dataset, an international citizen science initiative. But, you may ask, why a brand audit? Why not just sort all of our waste into broad categories, like a traditional waste audit? 

Waste audits were always a favorite of mine. Even the last one I did, which featured freezing temperatures, rain, and so much hair for some reason (gag). The data collected from waste audits can help a campus see where waste is ending up, and while this is helpful in some regards, it isn’t the best assessment of your school’s waste output. Waste audits can have positive effects. At my school, our waste audit data found that over 70% of our waste at all locations was compostable (by weight, mind you). This launched our composting program, giving it much needed fuel to expand. We also found an unopened Twix bar and a selfie stick in the trash! Though waste audits are fun, and can be helpful, I wanted them to do more than just tell us where waste ended up. Where did this waste come from? Who made this plastic? What cracker plant produced pellets from fossil fuels to melt into this water bottle that I found? What dinosaur species was it? OK… maybe not that far back. 

Enter the brand audit. Brand audits were born out of the international Break Free From Plastic movement, which was created in 2016. This project digs deeper than a waste audit and seeks to shift the responsibility for plastic pollution from the individual to the producer. Instead of just sorting waste by type, like compost/recycling/landfill, brand audits have you sort waste by brands, such as Pepsi, Coke, and Nestle. This way we can accurately measure how much waste is coming from each of these corporations, taking the narrative away from consumer responsibility. Believe me, if I could buy canned water, I would. If I could use reusable takeout containers at all the restaurants I like, I would. But those systems are not currently in place, and on top of that, companies like Pepsi, Coke and Nestle lobby to prevent their creation. You see, they don’t want to be burdened with switching how they do things, and their friends in the fossil fuel corporations are lobbying with them.  If we stopped using single use plastic, we wouldn’t need them to extract any more fossil fuels! Last year Pepsi and Coke were found to be the two top polluters in the world, and they responded to that fact. They can hear us, and we aren’t even close to being as loud as possible. We can make corporations change, and brand audits are one way to help us get there.

If you’re interested in conducting a brand audit with your school, workplace, or at home, learn more at the BBFP Brand audit page! And if you want to push your school to stop buying from these top polluters, set up a meeting with Young.