UK Charity Wants You to Call Out Brand Pollution on Social Media This Earth Day

Surfers Against Sewage takes its annual 'Return to Offender' campaign digital this year

an illustrated poster that says #ReturnToOffenders with instructions
Surfers Against Sewage wants volunteers to post photos of pollution on social media. Surfers Against Sewage
Headshot of Ian Zelaya

Surfers Against Sewage, a U.K.-based marine conservation charity, normally uses its “Return to Offender” campaign to encourage brands to implement better sustainability programs by sending packaging pollution back to the offending manufacturers. But with Covid-19 preventing volunteers from physically cleaning up the country’s beaches and streets, the campaign has gone digital for Earth Day.

Now through May 22, the organization is asking volunteers to document pollution on social media as a way to continue exposing and challenging brands to clean up their act—literally. The program asks people to take photos of branded pollution they see on walks, noting that this should only be done on isolated walks within their local government guidelines. They are then encouraged to share the photos on social media with the hashtags #ReturnToOffender and #SurfersAgainstSewage and tag the organization and the offending brand.

The annual “Return to Offender” campaign urges brands to publicly respond by reducing plastic packaging, supporting refill schemes and supporting the accelerated introduction of a deposit return scheme. A group of Cornish surfers founded Surfers Against Sewage in 1990 to inspire local communities to keep their beaches and coastlines clean.

“To mark Earth Day, we are launching our first-ever digital beach clean campaign, #ReturnToOffender, highlighting the plastic pollution crisis and urging action from the manufacturers of single-use plastics,” said Hugo Tagholm, CEO at Surfers Against Sewage, in a statement. “Our wild spaces are more important than ever during the current crisis and can’t be forgotten.”

The social media submissions will be used as data for Surfers Against Sewage’s larger campaign that launches in June, spotlighting brand manufacturers contributing to the most waste found in U.K.’s public spaces and beaches.

In 2019, Surfers Against Sewage reported that Coke and Pepsi contributed to 25% of packaging pollution from a volunteer cleanup during Big Spring Beach Clean. The organization used the data to urge the government to put in place stricter extended producer responsibility regulations for product manufacturers.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has been the main subject of marketing campaigns for the past couple of months, brands have used Earth Day to creatively address the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg’s organization’s new ad bluntly addresses climate change, and National Geographic launched an Instagram AR experience to show projected climate conditions for 12 global cities in 2070. Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.