Litterbugs of the world ought to think twice about tossing their garbage onto the street — science is out to get you. That’s the case in Hong Kong, where a new ad campaign uses the DNA lifted from discarded wrappers and other trash to create digital mugshots of the perps, which are then plastered all across the city.
The initiative — dubbed “The Face of Litter” — was launched to coincide with Global Earth Day. It’s spearheaded by marketing agency Ogilvy in conjunction with Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based biotechnology which has applied this sort of DNA research in the past for criminal investigations. Here’s how it works, per Wired:
The DNA found on the Hong Kong trash is taken to a genotyping lab, where a massive data set on the litterbug is produced. This data, when processed with Parabon’s machine-learning algorithms, begins to form a rough snapshot of certain phenotypes, or traits. Parabon focuses on what it describes as highly heritable traits—or traits that have the least amount of environmental variability involved. Things like eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape are far easier to determine than height, age, and even hair morphology (straight, wavy, or curly).
The Ogilvy team says it accounted for age by studying market research on the types of litter it processed. For example, people ages 18-34 are more likely to chew gum, so any gum samples were automatically given an average age in that range. Whereas the portraits of cigarette litterers, more common among the 45-plus group, were depicted as slightly older.
According to Ogilvy, they “received permission from every person whose trash they picked up,” so it’s not technically a totally invasive process. Still, it’s not hard to see why this kind of campaign might make people feel very uneasy. It’s a hell of a lot more passive aggressive than confronting litterers head-on.