Our History

UPSTREAM was formed in 2003 to create a healthy, sustainable, and equitable society by addressing the root causes of environmental harm. Since then, we have advocated for green design, source reduction, and corporate accountability to transform the environmental and social impacts of products and packaging.

Origins: Building the Rationale for Sustainable Production and Consumption

Our first project was an original analysis environment_economy_intersectionof the history of solid waste management that showed how the provision of “free” waste disposal services by local governments over the past century enabled manufacturers to design toxic and throwaway products and packaging. These policies allow consumer goods companies to design and package a product any way they like, and leave the problem of what to do with the product, its packaging and its environmental impacts to local governments, taxpayers, and garbage ratepayers.

Promoting Extended Producer Responsibility and Sustainable Product Policies

We were the first national organization to widely promote extended producer responsibility (EPR) as a transformative solution to these problems. EPR policies make consumer goods companies responsible for designing their products with safe, sustainable materials; and collecting and recycling their products and packaging when consumers are finished with them. UPSTREAM is the only national organization with a public-interest focus working for comprehensive EPR policy reform in the United States today.

Coalition-Builders and Movement-Catalysts

Over the years, we developed policies and Stoneseducational materials, and organized key stakeholders to help public interest groups, government officials, leading companies, and citizens advocate for sustainable products initiatives – remaking the way we make products and use materials through integrated policy, market, science, and grassroots strategies. UPSTREAM has been the catalyst and clearinghouse for developing and organizing three national networks to date:

  • Product Stewardship Councils – A network of state and regional organizations of local government officials working for state producer responsibility policies, since 2005. UPSTREAM helped create eight of the Councils and co-coordinates their activity.
  • The CRADLE2 Coalition – A national alliance of more than 60 public interest organizations working to make products and packaging more sustainable; working together since 2010. CRADLE2 works to build the political power to have states adopt EPR policies for virtually all products and packaging in the waste stream. UPSTREAM is the coordinator, fiscal agent, and lead organization behind CRADLE2.
  • The Make It, Take Campaign – A new national campaign to elevate the issue of packaging waste, put public pressure on consumer goods corporations, and educate and mobilize citizens for sustainable packaging policies; launched June 2013. UPSTREAM is the initiator, coordinator, and lead organization behind Make It, Take It.

Making an Impact for a Healthy, Just, and Green Economy

By informing and organizing local governments, public-interest groups, legislators, leading companies and citizens to work for producer responsibility policies, UPSTREAM’s work has launched a system-wide shift that moves life-cycle responsibility for products away from the public and onto the parties who design, market, and profit from their sale. Our efforts have helped move EPR policy into a high legislative phase in the United States. More than 70 producer responsibility laws covering 13 product categories have been adopted in 34 states since 2004.

Our primary strategy is to engage stakeholders around upstream, product-focused policies to solve environmental problems where they start. By organizing diverse constituencies into powerful networks and aligning them around system-changing policy solutions, we can effect change at a high level with limited resources.

Learn more about our Projects >>