Social Bite: UCO is Talking Trash on Social Media. And It's Working.

Picking up a piece of trash may feel like a small act, but when it’s part of a collection of more than 10,000 moments of cleaning up outdoor spaces, it becomes something big.

By Katie Boué February 9, 2016

The concept is simple: Find trash, pick it up, snap a photo, and share it for a chance to win free gear. The #TrashTag Project from UCO, a company that makes illumination products such as lanterns and light-up tent stakes, promotes positive outdoor stewardship, with an incentivized social media twist.

As stewardship and education become big topics in the outdoor community, brands such as UCO are stepping up to the plate to activate their audiences in positive ways. And it certainly doesn’t hurt in attracting brand loyalty from social media–savvy Millennials who value companies that do good. The #TrashTag project has a “commitment to removing 10,000 pieces of trash by October 2016,” but with 10,504 Instagrams tagged #TrashTag as of writing, it seems they’ve already surpassed the initial goal.

UCO created a micro website, and spread the word about its new campaign through social media. To drive participation, the brand features weekly giveaways for anyone who tags their photos #TrashTag. In addition, outdoor industry influencers such as Heather Balogh Rochfort and Stephen Reinhold were tapped to use their powerful social impact to help UCO spread the word. Together, the #TrashTag ambassadors have nearly 33,000 followers on Instagram alone.

“It’s nice to see a brand doing something tangible that is inherently good,” says Balogh Rochfort, a Colorado-based outdoor writer.  “Becoming involved was a no-brainer, regardless of compensation or whatever else. It’s a mission I stand behind.”

The #TrashTag Instagram feed provides a startling look at the litter scattered on public lands. There are plenty of the usual food wrappers and beer bottles, but you’ll also find a slew of unexpected items such as tires, toothbrushes and 25-pound weights found on trails.

On their own, each photo tagged #TrashTag may appear to be just one tiny drop in the bucket of the huge problem of litter in outdoor spaces—but when you view the individual pieces together in the collective feed, it truly shows the power of this campaign.

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For some participants, helping UCO spread the word felt like a natural alignment with preexisting habits. “I carry a collapsible reusable grocery bag every time I go for a run, so when I see trash, I pick it up,” says #TrashTag ambassador Heidi Henry. “By documenting it, my goal isn’t to say ‘Look what I’ve done; give me a pat on the back.’ It’s more my goal to plant the seed for others to do the same when they are out and about.”

With eight months remaining in the official campaign, which originally launched in October 2015, it will be interesting to see the final count for how many #TrashTags are submitted by October 2016. Already a success, UCO’s efforts in using social media to do good set an excellent example for other outdoor companies on how social platforms can be a tool for promoting stewardship—and establishing your brand as a positive force in the industry.