Beyond the Ban

UPSTREAM’s “Beyond the Ban” Project brings city governments and public interest organizations together to identify and deploy policies to prevent plastic pollution, reduce waste and boost recycling.

Participants will evaluate and explore the ways in which policies, such as product bans and extended producer responsibility, have been and can be effective at reducing the harmful impact of plastics use, especially single-use disposable applications.

By supporting community engagement and strategic planning efforts, UPSTREAM and its partners seek to:

  • Co-develop and share model policies, infrastructure investment opportunities, and blueprints for community engagement that reduce the negative impacts of plastic packaging while promoting sustainable economic development. Participants will explore ideas such as bans on certain plastic packaging applications that cause the most harm; compostable plastic programs; environmentally-preferable procurement policies; extended producer responsibility policies; optimization of waste management infrastructure, including stormwater systems; and community-outreach and education.
  • Develop peer-reviewed list of best practices for cities seeking new approaches to reducing and managing plastic waste, along with specific recommended next steps for the participating cities to accomplish their program goals.
  • Develop a list of local and national stakeholders to engage in policy and implementation including community organizations and local businesses.
  • Identify a process to begin implementing and testing the model policies and best practices, and also to replicate the best ideas nationally and potentially internationally.

Why is this project necessary?

Existing efforts to achieve Zero Waste have focused on developing community-based infrastructure for managing waste including community gardens, local processors, waste reduction efforts and successful recycling initiatives. As recycling streams have evolved, existing approaches have been unable to keep pace with the increasing amount of plastics use and resulting litter, disposal and recycling costs.

A 2013 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that the costs to address litter and plastic pollution in California’s environment were nearly $500 million dollars each year. Current policy responses have focused on efforts such as plastic bag bans, compostability standards, and mandatory recycling. Even with the expansion of these efforts, business as usual scenarios estimate a four-fold increase in the use of plastics by 2050, with roughly half of all plastic being produced for single-use disposable applications.

Cities face escalating costs of managing plastic waste, with nearly a third of plastic packaging escaping existing collection systems. As described in the Eugene Memo, a project of the Urban Sustainability Director’s Network,  “[t]he economy is driven by the goal of continuing economic growth, with its associated high levels of material an energy throughput, pollution, and inequities while the natural system struggles to maintain itself in the face of these demands.” The rapid growth of plastic packaging waste far outstrips local government’s ability to impact upstream design change and invest in post-consumer infrastructure necessary to collect and recycle or dispose of plastics to prevent their release into the environment.

How was this project developed?

This project seeks to build upon previous work on sustainable consumption, compostable plastics and community engagement completed by members of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. A number of communities represented within this network either have experience with or interest in engaging in extended producer responsibility programs for plastic and packaging materials as a foundational component of new plastic pollution policies.
Through these discussions with city staff, there has been an identified need to explore disruptive interventions and policies to prevent the release of plastics into the environment and reduce the burden of managing plastics on municipalities.

Additional Resources

(under development)