Toolkit: Community Plastic Clean-Up and Brand Audit


Healthy oceans are the life support system for our planet, providing 97 percent of the Earth’s livable habitat and a home to more than 700,000 species. But right now, our oceans are in more trouble than ever before. It is estimated that over 8 million metric tons of plastic [1]

– everything from plastic bottles and bags to microbeads – ends up in our oceans each year. That’s a truckload of trash every minute.

We’ve all seen evidence of plastic pollution in our communities and environment, and many of us have taken individual action to do something about it. But is all the plastic pollution in our oceans, streams, parks and neighborhoods there because of careless individuals—or is there something bigger going on? At Greenpeace USA, we think systems play a larger role than individuals. Large corporations rely on single-use plastic packaging because it benefits them as producers of goods: single-use means more consumption and ease for the purchaser, so it’s a win-win if you’re looking to turn a profit without care for plastic pollution’s devastating impacts.

We’re demanding that corporations take responsibility for the plastic pollution crisis and we need your help! Ready to get started?

Here’s where YOU come in!

To think big about plastic pollution and hold these large corporations accountable, we need your help. We need people around the country to host clean-ups in their communities, and then record the branded plastic products you find in a brand audit. 

We need you to tell us what sort of plastic pollution you’re finding in your communities, so that we can present the data and hold these big companies accountable. Every year, people all over the world hold brand audits and clean ups in their communities. Then in the fall, the global results are released so we can hold the worst corporate polluters accountable. In this toolkit you’ll find all the tips you need to hold a successful clean-up and brand audit, because we can’t do this without you. To tackle plastic pollution, it’s going to take all of us.

Preparing for Your Clean-Up 

Choosing Your Location

First, it’s time to do a bit of research. Is there an area in your community that is most heavily affected by plastic pollution? Where would your cleanup make the most impact? 

  • Some locations could be: your neighborhood, local park, beach, school, downtown or outside your workplace!

Add your event to the Greenpeace events page.

If you need help with creating your event, speak with your coach or a Greenpeace USA representative.

Recruiting attendees

  1. Set your attendee goal. A good clean-up needs 3 or more participants. In order to hold a successful brand audit, you will likely want to have 5 or more attendees. If your event is smaller than 5 people, we recommend doing a clean up without the brand audit portion.
  2. Reach out to your own connections. Your attendees can come from all aspects of your life — work, school, faith, friends, family, neighbors — the options are unlimited! Think about the best way to recruit someone based on how you know them. If you want to recruit a family member or a close friend, you probably want to have an in-person conversation or give them a call. For coworkers, classmates, and neighbors, a text message or an email might feel more appropriate. It all depends on your relationship and what feels right to you. Sample text message (Feel free to adapt this so it sounds like your own voice):“Hey [name]! Hope all is well 🙂 I’m reaching out because I’m organizing a plastic cleanup at [LOCATION] with Greenpeace USA and wanted to see if you could join! It will be on [DATE] at [TIME]. It would be great to see you there! Can you make it?”You can also reach out to folks outside of your immediate network. Social media, listservs, and community posters are just some examples. The key here is to be creative!
  3. Recruit other Greenpeacers. If you’d like to invite Greenpeace USA supporters in your area, let us know by filling out this recruitment request form. Once you do, a Greenpeace staffer will get you set up with a textbanking campaign. This way you’ll be able to reach out directly to other Greenpeace supporters and volunteers near you and invite them to your event.
  4. Make sure people RSVP to your event. This is so you’ll have a better idea of who’s coming!

The day before your event

Reach out to each of your attendees to confirm that they can make it. This makes it much more likely that they will show up! Make sure they have all the supplies they need, have a ride to the event, etc. Be sure to remind them of the Greenpeace USA Covid protocols.

Purchasing Materials

Make sure to get the appropriate materials in advance so your cleanup is as safe and smooth as possible! These materials can be found at your local home improvement store, or online. 



  • Gloves ensure the protection of your skin when in contact with potentially harmful trash. 
  • Gardening gloves, industrial gloves, cleaning gloves, for example, are best for picking up litter. Winter gloves designed for the cold do not work as well. 
  • We recommend using disposable nitrile gloves instead of standard latex gloves because they provide far better skin protection.

Collection Containers

  • 10-gallon buckets and other rigid containers that can easily be carried work best.
  • Burlap bags are also a fine substitute for plastic bags. Additionally, personal shopping carts are useful.
  • You’re welcome to use plastic grocery bags that you have on hand, but you may want to double bag here for safety purposes.
  • If you only have access to standard garbage bags, these work as well. 
  • If possible, try to have different bags for recyclable litter, compostable litter, and standard landfill trash.

Brand Audit Reporting Form (if you’re doing a brand audit)

  • Print enough for each attendee of your event. 
  • Bring pens and clipboards for everyone.

Optional but encouraged:


  • Grabbers (or trash pickers) are long instruments that allow you to pick up trash without having to use your hands. While they’re on the more expensive side, they’re an absolute game-changer when it comes to picking up trash (especially if you plan on doing it frequently). 

A tarp or old sheet 

  • Use this to lay trash on for sorting during the brand audit portion. 


  • Nothing works up an appetite like picking up trash! Have snacks and water for your guests if possible, or encourage them to bring their own.

If you are unable to find or afford these materials, please contact our team at [email protected], and we’ll ensure that you’re provided with the items you need for this activity.

The Day Of 

Once everyone arrives at your set location, it’s time for your clean up to begin! Here is a sample agenda to help you structure your event. Feel free to customize as you like to best suit your event!

Sample agenda

Before the event begins

  • Make a plan for where you and your attendees will meet. It can be in the parking lot, near a notable landmark, or anywhere that’s easily accessible.

Welcome and introductions (10 mins)

  • Welcome everyone and thank them for coming. As your guests arrive, provide them with cleanup materials. Make sure everyone agrees on your event’s Covid protocol. 
  • Beginning with yourself so you can model, have the group do introductions.
  • Example: “Let’s share our names, pronouns, our least favorite piece of trash, and why we’re here”.

Talk about why this moment is so important for our climate (5 mins)

Talking points: 

  • Plastic pollution is not just a marine litter problem and can not be solved by focusing on downstream solutions such as recycling. The focus here should be on the institutional laws and policies which allow and encourage the manufacture of single-use plastics.
  • The plastic industry furthers long-standing environmental racism and must be stopped. All over the world, communities of color face disproportionate health impacts from the plastics industry, whether through incinerators, landfills, petrochemical facilities, polluted waterways, or the harmful plastic packaging pushed on communities [2].
  • The vast majority of plastics are produced from fossil fuels. The same oil and gas companies driving climate change rely on the continued use of single-use plastics for profits [3]. Industry giants like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron Phillips all produce both fossil fuels and plastics, jeopardizing the health of our communities and the planet. 
  • Remember, it’s important to recognize that this is not solely OUR responsibility. The onus is on governments for failing to keep our communities clean, and corporations for creating excessive amounts of single-use plastics to bolster their profits. By taking part in this clean up, you are holding the corporations in power accountable for their wrongdoings as we fight for the green and just future we deserve.  

Walk through your game plan (5 mins)

  • Decide how your group wants to approach the clean up. Set up a designated sorting area for the trash and decide who will manage the sorting station and who will handle collection. 
  • You can assign certain areas to clean or set timed check-ins to keep everyone motivated.
  • Another fun idea, especially if you have kids involved, is to set up a scavenger hunt. Items to include on that list could be candy wrappers, toys, bottle caps, something purple, etc. Whoever collects all the items first wins!
  • Instruct your guests to abide by the following safety precautions: Until you have taken off your gloves and washed/sanitized your hands, do not touch your clothes, face, skin, or personal items (phone, water bottle, etc.) while picking up litter. 
  • Do not collect or handle any sharp objects. If you feel uncomfortable touching something you find, it’s better to leave it and make sure the group is also aware of it.
  • If children are involved, be sure to have a designated adult to supervise. 
  • If you find a dead animal, do not touch it. If you find a wounded animal, call your local officials. 

Time to Clean It Up! (~ 1 hour)

  • Spend 1 hour minimum picking up trash in your designated area. 
  • If you have 5 or more people for the brand audit, extend your clean up time by 20 minutes. 
  • Break down your hour of cleanup into three 20 minute sections. Start by setting a timer for 20 minutes and see how much you can pick up. You might be surprised by how much you are able to remove in such a short time. Bring your trash to the sorting area after the first 20 minutes and then repeat this process two more times. 
  • To make the auditing portion easier, think about pre-sorting what you pick up, grouping plastic items together. 
  • Using a buddy system helps keep the event social and entertaining since it can often be fun to share your findings.
  • Be sure to take lots of photos of your findings and all your attendees taking action!

Regroup and carry out your brand audit (30 mins)

  • Share your findings with each other and reflect on the experience. Were you surprised by how much trash you did or didn’t find? What was the strangest thing you found? 
  • While still wearing your gloves, sort through the plastic items and make a note of the brand and item type. For example, if you find a Diet Coke can, you would note that you found a can from the Coke brand. (See more details on auditing below!) Please note that for this audit, we are collecting information about plastic waste only
  • More on the brand audit below.

Debrief and Disposal (10 mins)

  • Dispose of what you cleaned up properly. Pre-sorting the items will make this step much easier. Be sure to dispose of compostable and organic matter appropriately, if you have access to compostable or green waste disposal. Landfill items you collected should be disposed of in a trash bin or dumpster depending on the waste management in your area. As for the plastic items and other recyclable items collected, adhere to your area’s recycling guidelines.
  • Lastly, thank everyone for coming, and make sure you stay in touch if they’re interested in more volunteer opportunities or want to join your Action Pod. 
  • Depending on your location and the weather, you could also organize a picnic or grab a snack with your group to close out the event. 

After the Event

  • Send thank yous to your attendees and answer any follow-up questions!
  • Share your hard work with the world and expose plastic pollution: Share the photos you took with your Action Pod coach and on the volunteer Slack workspace in the #event-support channel! Also, please share your findings on social media and tag Greenpeace USA. We at Greenpeace would like to re-gram your hard work and use the photos as a part of our global campaign to fight plastic pollution.
  • Take a breath. YOU DID GREAT! Thank you!


A Brand Audit Explained

Corporations like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever, Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, and McDonald’s all have a huge role to play when it comes to plastic pollution. We are sold coffee, soda, chips, candy, sandwiches, shampoo, face wash, and soap contained in plastic that we have no choice but to throw away. It is time for these corporations to invest in alternatives and phase out single-use plastic. We want to determine which corporations have contributed to plastic pollution, and that’s why we need your help auditing the plastic waste you collect.

We have created a simple online form where you can report all the vital information we need to get the most useful information from these audits.


  1. Identify categories. What kind of plastic trash items are you finding? (Examples: bottles, bags, cups, cutlery, caps, lids, straws, stirrers, etc.)

Fanta Lemon 500ml GB 1x12 - Templeman

  1. What is the brand labeled on this item? (Hint: This will be the most visible word printed on the item!) For the plastic bottle you see here, the brand would be Fanta.
  1. Who is the manufacturer of that brand? (Hint: This will be in smaller print in a less obvious place.) For the plastic Fanta bottle above, the manufacturer would be Coca-Cola.

Coca Cola SWOT Analysis (6 Key Strengths in 2021)

For example, these are all Coca-Cola brands.

Other large manufacturers like Unilever, Nestle, and Proctor & Gamble each have hundreds of brands. A quick online search should reveal the manufacturer of your plastic item, if you have trouble finding it on the label.

To view your brand audit form, click here.


Wrapping Up:

  • Document the sorting process by taking a few clear pictures while the plastic is being sorted. Images are required to upload audit information.
  • Once you’ve taken some photos of your group and disposed of your waste appropriately, thank everyone for joining you. This brand audit connects us on a national (and global) level! Thank you for being a part of our national community of concerned citizens working together to protect our coasts, climate, and communities.
  • Scan the audit form, or take clear pictures and upload to this website.
  • Enter your data into the global Online Audit Form found here