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2020 Brand Audit Report Q&A (Public)
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2020 Brand Audit Report Q&A

Q&A

What is Break Free From Plastic?

What is a brand audit?

Who took part in the brand audit?

When was this data collected?

Who are the top 10 ‘global polluters’ from the 2020 Brand Audit Report?

How are ‘top global polluters’ defined?

What were the most common plastic items found?

What were the most common types of plastic found?

Did we find any personal protective equipment (PPE) related to COVID-19?

Why did the 2020 Brand Audit Report spotlight waste pickers?
What are some concrete ways corporations can demonstrate they are listening to our demands?
How did we ensure brand audits were COVID-safe?
Why did we conduct home brand audits?

What is Break Free From Plastic?

The #breakfreefromplastic movement is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 11,000 organizations and individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, and work together through a holistic approach in order to bring about systemic change under the #breakfreefromplastic core pillars. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain - from extraction to disposal – focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions.

What is a brand audit?

Brand audits are our way of gathering evidence to hold corporations accountable for plastic that is not manageable or that ​may​ be recyclable but is ending up where it shouldn’t be. If we only clean plastic up, it will keep coming back. The only way to combat plastic pollution is to stop it at its source. Brand audits help us do just that! Through a combination of civic action and citizen science, we recorded data to find out which corporations are polluting our communities with single-use plastic. These audits allow us to expose exactly who is responsible for the plastic pollution problem and better hold them accountable to solve it.

Brand Audits were carried out across many different environments and were not limited to coastal areas. Whilst they resemble traditional clean-ups, they differ in one key way: by recording the brand on the pollution we are able to highlight who is truly responsible for the plastic pollution crisis.

Who took part in the brand audit?

Almost 15,000[1] volunteers across 6 continents in 55 countries took part in 575 organised brand audits. These audits recorded a total of 346,494 pieces of plastic waste and involved more than 200 participating organisations around the world.

When was this data collected?

Between August 1 and September 30, 2020. The majority of these global brand audits took place during the week leading up to World Clean Up Day on September 19, 2020.

Who are the top 10 ‘global polluters’ from the 2020 Brand Audit Report?

  1. The Coca-Cola Company (13,834 pieces of plastic waste in 51 countries)
  2. PepsiCo. (5,155 pieces of plastic waste in 43 countries)
  3. Nestlé (8,633 pieces of plastic waste in 37 countries)
  4. Unilever (5,558 pieces of plastic waste in 37 countries)
  5. Mondelez International (1,171 pieces of plastic waste in 34 countries)
  6.  Mars, Incorporated (678 pieces of plastic waste in 32 countries)
  7.  Procter & Gamble (3,535 pieces of plastic waste in 29 countries)
  8.  Philip Morris International (2,593 pieces of plastic waste in 28 countries)
  9.  Colgate-Palmolive (5,911 pieces of plastic waste in 24 countries)
  10.  Perfetti Van Mille (465 pieces of plastic waste in 24 countries)

How are ‘top global polluters’ defined?

These results are ranked primarily according to widespread global distribution - in other words, by the number of countries where brand audits reported finding these companies. Our priority metric was to examine these companies’ presence across the highest number of countries, to be consistent with last year’s methodology. We also factored in the total number of branded items recorded that were produced by these companies as a secondary metric. Together, these “Top Global Polluters” emerged, reflecting both depth and breadth. To put it simply, these results reveal the companies polluting the most places with the most plastics.

What were the most common plastic items found?

  1. Sachets - small sealed bags, frequently used for everything from hygiene products to foods[2] (63,972)
  2. Cigarette Butts (60,344)
  3. Plastic Bottles (50,968)

What were the most common types of plastic found?

  1. O (Other) - 132,445 (examples: sachets, cigarette butts)
  2. PET (polyethylene terephthalate) - 81,904 (examples: beverage bottles for water, soda)
  3. PP (polypropylene) - 61,720 (examples: bottle caps, surgical face masks)

Did we find any personal protective equipment (PPE) related to COVID-19?

Globally, volunteers recorded 770 single-use surgical masks and 419 single-use gloves. Surgical masks are made primarily of polypropylene, which is a type of plastic (PP). Surgical gloves are commonly made from either latex, vinyl, or nitrile. Vinyl is a type of plastic, while latex is a natural rubber and nitrile is a synthetic petroleum-based rubber.

Why did the 2020 Brand Audit Report spotlight waste pickers?

This year’s “Special Edition” brand audits highlight the essential work and service that waste pickers provide to our societies, especially this year when facing the challenges posed by the pandemic. The 2020 Brand Audit Report further seeks to expose how the plastic industry’s packaging decisions are impacting the livelihoods of waste pickers. 332 waste pickers who collect from landfills and/or doorsteps conducted brand audits in seven countries: Brazil, Chile, Ghana, India, Philippines, South Africa, and Vietnam. All participating waste pickers were provided a stipend for their work in the 2020 brand audit.

Waste pickers are material experts, knowledgeable about which materials can be resold and recycled. By working closely with waste picker groups for this year’s brand audits, we highlight the role that corporations play in perpetuating the plastic pollution crisis and the disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities. Many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies directly rely on these informal waste workers by paying them to collect their packaging, which both enables the company to meet sustainability commitments and allows them to justify continuing to use such high quantities of single use plastic packaging. Simultaneously, these same companies worsen working conditions for waste pickers by shifting to lower value plastic packaging that waste pickers cannot resell. Industry predictions forecast a growing trend for FMCG companies to shift more of their packaging to single use flexible packaging, such as sachets and pouches, especially in emerging markets in the global south.

What are some concrete ways corporations can demonstrate they are listening to our demands?

Corporations must start by publicly revealing the amount of single-use plastic items they produce each year. Then they must set clear, ambitious, measurable targets on how they will reduce that footprint. Finally, corporations must reinvent how they package their products. They should work together with each other and retailers to develop standardized, reusable, refillable packaging that is convenient and accessible for all. Or even better, use no packaging at all.

Corporations actively greenwash their image by funding clean ups, working with waste pickers to collect their waste in small scale projects that do little to benefit the wider community, and by claiming their single-use products are part of a circular economy when they are anything but. If corporations are serious about demonstrating their concern about plastic pollution, they must stop greenwashing and commit to changing the system.

How did we ensure brand audits were COVID-safe?

Our first priority is the health and safety of our participants and their communities. To help ensure that brand audit events were as safe as possible, we developed a Cleanup and Brand Audit Coronavirus Risk Assessment Guide that brand audit organizers were required to follow. If local authorities imposed limitations on outdoor gatherings, participants were encouraged to conduct an individual brand audit on a solo walk outdoors. As a last resort, to make brand audits accessible for those unable to go outside, participants could do brand audits at home by recording data on plastic waste disposed over the course of one week.

Why did we conduct home brand audits?

Due to pandemic restrictions against large public gatherings and lockdowns in many places, participants had the option of conducting indoor brand audits at home. We still encouraged outdoor brand audits as much as possible, but given the uncertainty of the ongoing public health crisis, we wanted to offer a safe option to participate for those unable to leave their homes.

While outdoor brand audit data tells us about plastic that has escaped the waste stream, indoor brand audit data reveals that plastic within the waste stream is also problematic and very hard to avoid. From Break Free From Plastic’s perspective, all plastic is pollution - not just the plastic litter collected outdoors. As a fossil fuel product, single-use plastic packaging causes pollution from the moment it is produced. Even if it does end up being properly collected, single-use plastic packaging is often incinerated or exported to other countries unequipped to manage it.

Furthermore, home brand audits encouraged people to reflect on the illusion of individual consumer choices as even the most well-intentioned environmentally-minded consumers will still struggle to avoid purchasing plastic entirely. Many consumers simply do not have the privilege of choice. This is particularly true during the coronavirus pandemic, as people under lockdown must rely on grocery deliveries which often come packaged in excessive single-use plastic. This is why we need systems change to completely rethink the way products are delivered to people.


[1] Exact number: 14,734 volunteers globally.

[2] Example: A ketchup packet at a fast food restaurant.