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Hong Kong Fights Litter with High-Tech Public Shaming

Joi Sears headshotWords by Joi Sears
Leadership & Transparency
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As our world becomes more technology-driven, businesses will increasingly look toward science and technology to spread awareness about the most pressing social and environmental issues we face.

We see a growing number of creative social-marketing campaigns aimed at changing behavior. Case in point: The Hong Kong Cleanup recently launched an innovative campaign that fights litter with high-tech public shaming.

The problem


Hong Kong, along with the rest of the world, is dealing with a serious trash issue. More than 16,000 tons of trash is thrown away every day. This includes more than 1.3 million disposable plastic bottles, 1,000 tons of plastic bags, and countless more tons of plastic wrapping and packaging. Their landfills are full. They are consuming and throwing away more than the city’s infrastructure and surrounding ecosystems can handle.

The solution


The Hong Kong Cleanup decided to take matters into its own hands. In partnership with the Nature Conservancy and Ecozine, the organization recently spearheaded an innovative awareness campaign to face the problem of littering -- literally.

Launched just in time for Earth Day in April, the Face of Litter is a citywide campaign, developed by award-winning PR partner Ogilvy. It takes an unconventional approach to the problem of littering, looking to science and technology to publicly shame the worst litter offenders.

The campaign


The Face of Litter targets key locations in Hong Kong to collect debris. Researchers analyze tossed trash and recyclables to extract DNA and create life-like digital portraits of litterers. Scientists are able to determine the eye color, skin color, hair color and even ancestry from DNA left on the smallest piece of trash.

Even more impressive -- they can asses the shape of the person’s face and create a relatively accurate portrait:

Portraits of these trash offenders are posted all over the city, from mass transit to social media and various print publications. “This campaign is one of a kind,” said Reed Collins, chief creative officer of Oglivy, “It’s interactive. It’s innovative. It’s our own science experiment that we’re using to create social change. Litter is such a major problem in Hong Kong, and thanks to technology, we can now put a face to this anonymous crime and get people to think twice about littering.”

The impact


The Face of Litter Campaign comes in the wake of a recent global study, which found that China and Indonesia are likely the top sources of ocean plastic. Together, the two countries are responsible for more than a third of the plastic bottles, bags and other trash that washes out to sea. Hong Kong Cleanup is an initiative that wants to reverse this problem in a major way. It has been working for over 15 years to combat waste.

"We are thrilled to be part of this innovative campaign, which is sure to have a positive impact on people and the community,” said Lisa Christensen, founder and CEO of Hong Kong Cleanup. “Last year, during the six-week Hong Kong Cleanup Challenge, 418 teams comprising 51,064 participants collected a total of 3,894,000 kilograms of litter from city streets, coastal areas and country trails.

"Sadly, we suffer from a serious 'pick up after me' mentality, and this simply must change,” co-founder Nissa Marion adds. "With the Hong Kong Cleanup celebrating its 15th anniversary, it’s a perfect time to take a fresh new approach to public awareness.”

Image credits: Face of Litter

Joi Sears headshotJoi Sears

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

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