New Campaign Profiles Litterers From Their DNA And Posts Reconstructions Of Their Faces

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Aamna Mohdin

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94 New Campaign Profiles Litterers From Their DNA And Posts Reconstructions Of Their Faces
Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong

Would you think twice about littering if your face was plastered on billboards as a result? While this sounds like something straight out of science fiction, it’s not. The Hong Kong Cleanup Initiative has collaborated with advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather to launch ‘The Face of Litter.’ The rather terrifying awareness campaign will collect the DNA traces found on litter to create a picture of the person's face and place it on multiple platforms.

The Face of Litter wants to tackle the problem of littering in key locations in Hong Kong. A recent global study, published in the journal Science, found that 275 million metric tonnes (MT) of plastic waste, such as plastic bottles and bags, was produced in 2010 in 192 coastal countries, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. In the study, China was found to be one of the main culprits as 1.32 to 3.53 million MT of its plastic waste reached the oceans in 2010.


By using DNA phenotyping, a process that uses a person’s DNA to predict their physical appearance, the campaign creates a picture of the individual who has littered. The DNA is combined with other demographic data to create a more accurate image. As Wired explains, certain types of litter—like gum—are associated with particular age groups. In the case of gum, people aged 18-34 are more likely to chew, so portraits are given a face within that age range.

Reed Collins, chief creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather Group, Hong Kong, said in a statement: “This campaign is one of a kind. 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 newly available DNA technology we can now put a face to this anonymous crime and get people to think twice about littering.”

The technology was initially developed by Parabon Nanolabs in collaboration with the Department of Defense to help with criminal investigations. The results, which are not perfect as it’s difficult to predict traits that are controlled by multiple genes, are quite powerful. The portraits will be put in a number of locations, including bus shelters, and on social media. Though Ogilvy & Mather insist they received permission to use peoples’ trash DNA, the campaign still raises a lot ethical questions.


Ogilvy & Mather HK - 'The Face of Litter' from Work that works on Vimeo.



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  • DNA phenotyping