My first thought was around the concept of free advertising in the form of littering. People do the majority of the work for businesses for free by abandoning cleverly branded product containers all over the world, creating trash that will largely outlive the environment. To me, that is equivalent to a paid billboard on the side of a highway—perhaps less visible, but far more pervasive, long-lasting, and, most importantly, far more economical for the company given it's totally free.
The blame is shifted to the consumer as companies exploit this human behaviour, profiting from it without any sort of accountability.
The sub-reflection is on the social consequences of this process.
It is no secret that wealthier areas of the world are less likely to be heavily littered; this is due to a combination of factors including education, population density, and better and more reliable waste management services.
Areas with a high concentration of housing, a lower educational index, and a lower income, on the other hand, are more likely to be polluted or poorly waste managed.
And here's the catch: if you look down on the street or at the unattended green areas, the same infamous brands—you name them—will always be popping up over and over again. The trash in those areas would reflect the actual consumption of those goods, reinforcing a specific product's dominance on the market even further.
The thesis is clear: businesses have no interest in resolving the issue, the pollution created has nothing to do with them directly, and the advertising generated is both unsolicited and, most importantly, completely free. It's a viciously genius cycle.
No wonder that, despite endless greenwashing campaigns, Coca-Cola has done nothing to try and solve the problem.
Since the first exhibition or iteration of the project, I have continued to investigate, photograph, and reflect on Branded Trash. I will soon release an updated version of the original project. My only conundrum is what AC Davidson of the University of Huddersfield pointed out, quite poignantly, about my work—a paradox that I was well aware of.
Adding an air of glossy value to ‘worthless’ waste, these images raise awareness of – and in doing so are complicit within - the enduring, free advertising of litter.
This project brings to light the circulation of value that not only spurs further ecological destruction but accumulates deeply uneven benefits and losses.
→ AC Davidson, University of Huddersfield