Project Highlights | Take Action | Legislation Updates | UPSTREAM in the News | Spotlight
Starting the Next Chapter
By Mark Hays – President, UPSTREAM Board of Directors
It’s been six months since Product Policy Institute became UPSTREAM, and the amount of activity we’ve seen since then reflects the growing momentum that led us to change our name in the first place.
We’ve revamped our website, doubled our social media friends and followers, presented at six conferences, co-facilitated an industry/NGO workshop on packaging, coordinated and supported efforts on twelve bills in eight different states, supported efforts to phase out plastic microbeads in personal care products, and launched a major collaborative campaign to pressure big companies to take responsibility for packaging waste. There’s enough going on that it is difficult to keep track!
Given all this activity, it would be tempting for us to imagine that a world – where extended producer responsibility is a common practice – is just around the corner. But, as many of you know, the reality is there’s a great deal of work still needed to even scratch the surface when it comes to reckoning with the colossal problem of waste and its impacts on our environment, health, and communities.
What’s more, there are a wide range of challenges we face in seeking a more sustainable economy that harnesses upstream solutions to address the root causes of waste – cash-strapped local governments, complex and thorny supply chains, shifting trends in packaging and product design that create new waste problems even as they solve old ones – just to name a few.
Yet, looking at these challenges, I’m still optimistic for the simple reason that the spirit of advocacy around EPR, waste reduction and product stewardship is based on the idea that the ‘problems’ we face are often opportunities if you view them from a different perspective, and often contain their own solutions.
I’m confident that UPSTREAM is well-positioned to find those opportunities and advocate for change that will help realize the potential of all those opportunities. And, one reason I have that confidence is that I know our work is made more effective and further-reaching in large part because of our partners, supporters, allies and friends like you. So, in that spirit, and in an effort to continue to broaden the dialogue on the potential of producer responsibility to transform our society’s relationship to waste and resources, we invite you to take a look at our new e-newsletter for more in-depth updates on our work, the latest trends in upstream solutions, and thought-provoking ideas from some of the leading voices in this field.
We hope this newsletter will be a valuable resource for you in your ongoing work and advocacy, and look forward to sharing more with you – and hearing from you as well –in the months ahead!
Make It, Take It Packaging Campaign Launches
We’re thrilled to announce that the Make It, Take It Campaign – a collaborative effort to pressure companies to take responsibility for packaging waste – was launched on April 30th. Over the past year, UPSTREAM brought together organizations working on plastic pollution, resource conservation/paper and zero waste/recycling issues to jointly create the campaign. The groups include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Water Action, Green America, Sierra Club EPR Team, Waterkeeper Alliance, Plastic Pollution Coalition, 5 Gyres, Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Eureka Recycling. Together, these organizations have a combined outreach of hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens. The coalition chose Kraft’s Capri Sun plastic laminate pouches as the first target because they are emblematic of a broader problem in packaging design: the switch to flexible plastic packaging that is designed to be thrown away. We will be sustaining this effort through the summer, and will release our next campaign action in July.
EPR Packaging Summit Signals Shift in Business Perspectives
On March 4, UPSTREAM and Future500 hosted an invitation-only forum for 40 public-interest, business and government stakeholders working on extended producer responsibility, source reduction, and recycling initiatives for packaging. The purpose of the summit was to pull together key stakeholders and experts working on packaging design and recycling to understand and align NGO, business and government needs, priorities and perspectives. While there was not agreement over EPR for packaging or container deposits as presented, there was general agreement that producers bear some financial responsibility for minimizing packaging waste and increasing recovery. Key obstacles to building a broad enough coalition to pass EPR legislation are a) unknown financial exposure for the brand-owners and b) the issue of who controls the system for local governments, waste haulers and MRF operators/processors.
UPSTREAM Launches Local Government Packaging Call Series
Following the EPR packaging summit, we assessed the landscape and potential for moving EPR for packaging forward in the United States. While there has been a tremendous amount of activity by many stakeholders on this subject, there has not been a widespread outpouring of support from brands, local governments or waste/recycling businesses. A lot of this is due to confusion as well as legitimate concerns over too much producer control in the policy options currently being implemented in British Columbia and presented in the United States. To answer this, we’ve created a call series with a select group of local and state government officials to: (1) Identify the key barriers to support for EPR from local governments, waste haulers recyclers and NGOs; (2) Develop policies that directly address those barriers and win support for a strong, market-based EPR proposal.
UPSTREAM Supports the Phase-out of Plastic Microbeads in Personal Care Products
In January, UPSTREAM teamed up with 5 Gyres – a plastic pollution research and advocacy organization – to push cosmetics manufacturers to phase out the use of plastic microbeads, an unnecessary ingredient and widespread source of plastic pollution in the environment. We co-developed a fact sheet and worked with 5 Gyres, CRADLE2 and the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators to engage legislators and NGOs on the issue. Our strategy of trying to persuade the US Environmental Protection Agency to convene a dialogue between NGOs and industry to set mediated phase-out deadlines for microbeads users reached a dead end when, after weeks of petitioning and some negotiating, EPA declined our request to convene a dialogue. At this point, we are waiting to see what happens with the legislation introduced in California and New York. If either bill passes, we will have accomplished what we needed to do with a dialogue legislatively. Huge kudos to our friends at 5 Gyres for their remarkable work in getting this issue in the press and getting traction in the CA and NY state legislatures.
CRADLE2 Coalition Sets Agenda for 2014 On January 24th, the CRADLE2 Coalition met in Providence, Rhode Island for our annual meeting to develop our 2014 work plan and strategize for the upcoming year. The group unanimously gave approval to expand the scope of the coalition’s work beyond just EPR to include upstream policies focused on eliminating or mitigating the environmental impacts of products and packaging. We planned subcommittee work on packaging, phased-out our paint committee and created new committees on source reduction and batteries. We also brainstormed and developed outlines for five coalition projects, and discussed how to better harmonize our legislative policy work.
New SIERRA CLUB Zero Waste-Producer Responsibility Team
UPSTREAM helped co-create a new team within the Sierra Club’s Grassroots Network to advocate for local, state and corporate policies to eliminate waste at the source — by holding producers responsible for good design and end-of-life management. UPSTREAM’s Bill Sheehan chairs the team, and it includes Sierra Club members and CRADLE2 partners Robin Schneider (TX), Heidi Sanborn (CA), and Lynne Pledger (MA). The Team is currently promoting campaigns aimed at getting battery maker Rayovac to take back its disposable single-use batteries and to get the pharmaceutical industry in California to pay for take-back of unwanted medicines. The Team is recruiting new Sierra Club members through Sierra EPR Twitter and Facebook pages, and a Grassroots Network website.
UPSTREAM to hold EPR-Financing Call Series
Over the past several years, EPR advocates have had difficulty passing legislation that holds producers directly responsible for financing take-back programs, which was the trend with e-waste and most mercury products legislation passed from 2004-2011. The trend for politically-winnable bills has moved from producer financing (cost internalization of environmental management) to consumer fee-based bills (paint, mattresses, and now mercury lamps): a situation which concerns many advocates. UPSTREAM/CRADLE2 will hold a call series on fee-based vs cost internalization starting in June to discuss with the broader product stewardship community.
Tell KRAFT Foods to “Respect the Planet. Stop the Pouch.”
Did you know that an estimated 1.4 billion Capri Sun pouches are landfilled or littered each year in the United States?Stacked end to end, that’s enough pouches to wrap around the Earth almost five times (121,527 miles). It’s nearly half-way to the moon! Capri Sun pouches are made by bonding aluminum and several layers of plastic together making them difficult to impossible to recycle. Read more and sign the petition.
UPSTREAM is coordinating and supporting work on 12 bills this legislative session. Here’s a brief rundown:
- Batteries: CA, VT – A deal on batteries is close that may pave the way for success on batteries this legislative session. Heidi Sanborn from the California Product Stewardship Council has been negotiating with representatives from the rechargeable and alkaline battery associations that allows for mutual compensation in the event that alkalines are collected with rechargeables and visa-versa. If this deal goes through, the prospects for all three bills are good. The VT bill has passed the House.
- Bottle Bills: MN – UPSTREAM provided comments on the proposed plan for a container deposit system in MN. Despite a significant discussion and a Committee hearing prompted by the MN Pollution Control Agency’s report and study on the economics of a bottle bill proposal, the bill was never officially introduced. The beverage industry and MN Grocers & Retailers Associations put a lot of effort into mobilizing opposition at the informational hearing.
- E-waste: MA – The bill passed relevant Environment Committee and is now on to the Senate Committee.
- Mercury-containing Lamps: WA state passed a negotiated bill between the state agency and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) representing the lighting manufacturers. While this compromise was necessary to preserve and roll out the EPR program passed several years ago, the mediated bill locks in a fee-based financing mechanism instead of full cost-internalization (in the Maine law) which we prefer and promote. This is another example of consumer fee-based bills (paint, mattresses, and now mercury lamps) having greater success than cost-internalization bills – an unfortunate and dubious trend. UPSTREAM/CRADLE2 will hold a call series on fee-based vs cost internalization starting in June to discuss with the broader product stewardship community.
- Paint: MA, WA – Because of the extremely short session and lack of time to work out the necessary details, the WA bill is dead for the year. However, there were good negotiations between Zero Waste Washington (our CRADLE2 partner), local government reps, waste haulers, and the paint industry which bodes well for next year. In, MA, PSI is leading this effort with some support from our C2 partner there. Prospects for success are good.
- Plastic Bag Bans: RI, VT – We submitted comments in support of the Rhode Island Plastic Waste Reduction Act. The bill had a hearing on March 20. Despite strong support, the bill is unlikely to pass this year.
- Pharmaceuticals: CA – We drafted and submitted comments in support of the CA Safe Medication Management Bill. Despite heroic efforts from CalPSC and many others, the bill is dead for this year.
- Mircrobeads Bans: CA, NY, – The bills were introduced considerable media attention and fanfare. The Attorney General’s office in New York succeeded in generating significant attention and involvement from NY’s environmental community, and 5Gyres did the same in California. Both bills have had their relevant hearings and 5 Gyres and local advocates are in negotiations with the personal care products industry of phase-out timelines. The prospects for success are good.
UPSTREAM in the News
The Maine Public Broadcasting Network: Maine Man Leads National Effort to Reduce Packaging Waste – April 30, 2014
Sustainable Brands: “Make It, Take It’ Campaign Pressures Companies to Take Responsibility for Packaging Waste – April 30, 2014
Plastic News: Consortium targets Capri Sun in new push to emphasize recycling – April 30, 2014
In an effort to highlight the great work of many sustainability professionals, each issue of this newsletter will feature an UPSTREAM board member or NGO. Please meet, David Stitzhal, President of Full Circle Environmental, Inc. and UPSTREAM board secretary.
Q. How has your work impacted EPR, source reduction, or recycling initiatives? Reflecting on his 25 years in the industry, David describes his work as comprised of hands-on technical assistance to businesses on one hand, and policy development targeted at problem products such as pharmaceuticals, carpet, used oil, automobiles, batteries and electronics on the other. “It’s a nice blend of concrete projects and big picture policy development; the different modes inform each other well, and are really incomplete without the other,” says Stitzhal. David was part of the team that established the first state producer responsibility electronic recycling program in the United States, now known as Washington’s E-Cycle Program. He has served on a number of national and local multi-stakeholder dialogues for hard to handle materials. David also helped create the first Product Stewardship Council in the nation, the Northwest Product Stewardship Council, for which he served as coordinator for 15 years.
Q. What are some of the issues you will focus on this year either as a board member or in your organization? King County, WA recently passed a Rule and Regulation requiring drug manufacturers to fund and operate a drug take-back system for unwanted medications, joining Alameda County in being only the second jurisdiction to pass such a policy. David has been working on this issue for nearly a decade, and will continue his support of program implementation, pending the outcome of the pharmaceutical industry lawsuit challenging both County ordinances. David, and Full Circle, will also support international research efforts exploring the flow, recovery and recycling of batteries from EDVs (Electric Drive Vehicles). And still in the early planning stages is an environmental business exchange between Beijing and Seattle, focusing on technology and cultural exchange.
Q. Is there an article/book/presentation you would like to highlight and note in this issue? David highlighted an article titled, Product Stewardship: Can it Drive Green Design? in the Spring 2011 issue of Environmental Quality Management. In the piece David discusses the need for more than a single policy to drive toward improved product design and recycling. “There isn’t one silver bullet for green design,” David says. “A combination of tools to manage waste and resources are needed; no single, isolated approach can solve the problem. And when we look for, or examine, single program or single policy solutions, it’s easy to critique, discount and disregard each one as not solving the problem.” Instead, Stitzhal suggests, we should explore what works in each approach and use the tools in combination to achieve our broader goals.
Q. What inspired you to become an UPSTREAM board member? David was initially drawn to UPSTREAM by “the thoughtful, creative, exacting work undertaken by Bill Sheehan and co-founder Helen Spiegelman.” Stitzhal continues, “I was excited to jump into the intellectual and policy crucible they were forming, and to learn from their theory and practice.” David sees UPSTREAM’s work as a rich blend of deep thinking with activist productivity. UPSTREAM works for the greater good through creative policy approaches that emphasize good governance. He enjoys being a member of an organization that creates high expectations for government, industry, consumers, and citizens. “UPSTREAM helps us see how we each contribute to – and are daily impacted by – the root causes of waste, and then it takes a next step by forging a path forward.”