Hong Kong Fights Litter with Hi-Tech Public Shaming

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 1,368,000 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. Not only does this jeopardize wildlife and the city’s economy, but the health and safety of the people who live there as well.

Hong Kong Cleanup is taking matters into their own hands. In partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Ecozine, they’ve recently launched an innovative awareness campaign to face the problem of littering – literally. Just in time for Earth Day, The Face of Litter takes an unconventional approach to the problem of littering. The citywide campaign, developed by award-winning PR partner Ogilvy, looks to science and technology to publicly shame the worst litter offenders.

The Face of Litter

The Face of Litter targets key locations in Hong Kong to collect debris, analyzes it to extract DNA and creates life-like digital portraits of litterers. Scientists are able to determine the eye color, skin color, hair color and even the ancestry, from DNA left on the smallest piece of trash. It can even asses the shape of the person’s face and create a relatively accurate portrait. They then combine the DNA data with other factors, such as demographics based on the type of litter and where it was collected, to determine the approximate age of the litterer for even greater accuracy.

Portraits of these trash offenders are posted all over the city, from mass transit to social media and various print publications throughout town. This campaign illustrates the power of a good public shaming. “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.”

Hong Kong Cleanup

The Face of Litter Campaign comes at the wake of a recent global study which finds that China and Indonesia are likely the top sources of plastic reaching the oceans. Together, they are responsible for more than a third of the plastic bottles, bags and other trash that washes out to sea. Cleanup Hong Kong is an initiative which wants to reverse this problem in a major way. They have been working for over fifteen 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, the 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 area’s 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.”

As our world becomes increasingly technology driven, more organizations will look to science and technology to spread awareness about our world’s most pressing social/environmental issues. This campaign creatively uses public shaming as a social marketing tool. It is geared towards nudging people to change their behavior when it comes to littering. We can only hope that it proves to be successful and does not have the reverse effect, in which people litter with hopes of becoming a face of the campaign. Only time will tell.

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