UPSTREAM Quarterly – August 2016

Project Updates | UPSTREAM Highlights | Spotlight

Launching UPSTREAM’s “Beyond the Ban” Project

Jamie RhodesBy Jamie Rhodes, Program Director

Bringing city governments and public interest organizations together to identify and deploy policies to prevent plastic pollution, reduce waste and boost recycling.

UPSTREAM has partnered with the cities of Providence, RI, San Francisco, CA, and Surrey, BC, to bring together North American cities to evaluate and explore the ways in which policies, such as product bans and extended producer responsibility (EPR), 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 a 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 its resulting litter, disposal and recycling costs.

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.
Building upon past work by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network to advance sustainable consumption, compostable plastics, and behavior change, cities need to evaluate existing practices and develop new efforts to target the growing public health and environmental crisis associated with plastic pollution. Many of the policies being evaluated are discussed in past work on sustainable consumption, ranging from developing better metrics “to measure and track changes in consumption patterns at the local level” and “to exercise power in the marketplace and leverage regulation, education and investment in the context of consumer motivations and desires.”

This project will focus those questions on how to mitigate the systems impact of the growth plastics use.  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.

UPSTREAM looks forward to working with its partners and network of allies and supporters on this collective effort to prevent and manage plastic pollution. Please contact me, Jamie Rhodes –, if you would like to be part of the project or have relevant experience with a program or other community engagement effort that would help the discussion.

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Project Updates

UPSTREAM hosts second national plastic pollution strategy meeting
P4 Strategy MapOn June 22-23, UPSTREAM convened the second meeting of the Plastic Pollution Policy Project with 21 participants from public interest organizations and several government leaders across the United States. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a strategic framework to collaboratively impact key intervention points in the system driving plastic pollution. We had a great time and met our meeting objectives including:

  • Developing a working strategic framework;
  • Vetting potential project ideas and developing clear next steps to move forward;
  • Clarifying how we will work together and laying the groundwork for further discussion on what additional allies, resources and shared infrastructure is needed as we move forward;
  • Connecting as a group and building relationships through engaging and thoughtful discussion.

UPSTREAM launches Cities Plastics Policy Project – “Beyond the Ban”
With the launch of this project, UPSTREAM is conducting outreach to city and organizational partners to collect information, data and experiences associated with efforts to prevent plastic pollution and manage plastics at the local level. Please contact Jamie Rhodes – – if you would like to be part of the project or have relevant experience with a program or other community engagement effort that should be discussed with cities that would help the discussion.

State packaging policy work wraps up for 2016
With the end of the legislative session, UPSTREAM’s Rhode Island campaign has come to a close for 2016 with no further action in either House or Senate committees. There will be on-going discussion with stakeholders regarding the best path forward in the 2017 legislative session. UPSTREAM staff looks forward to working with the new and returning legislators in the 2017-2018 legislative session to continue to refine this proposal for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders.

At the close of Connecticut’s 2016 legislative session, both Houses passed and the Governor signed a bill into law creating a task force to explore how to achieve its stated goals of at least a 25% reduction in consumer packaging by 2024. With recommendations due January 2017, UPSTREAM is excited to work with this 9-member committee to explore the potential benefits of implementing an extended producer responsibility program as part of the game-changing efforts needed to accomplish this ambitious goal.

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UPSTREAM Highlights 

  • UPSTREAM speaks at Lexicon of Sustainability’s Living Oceans Salon
    On May 5th, Matt presented on the perils of plastics recycling and the need for massive reduction in our use of plastic especially for high-pollution applications.
  • “EPR is the Answer.” UPSTREAM writes feature article for Plastics Recycling
    On May 19, Matt and Jamie’s piece was featured in Plastics Recycling. If you want a birds-eye view into the EPR for packaging debates in the United States, you can check it out here.
  • UPSTREAM presents to Connecticut’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee
    Jamie was invited to present at the May 24th meeting to discuss the development of EPR for packaging policy through stakeholder engagement in other states, specifically Rhode Island.
  • UPSTREAM hosts the second meeting of the Plastic Pollution Policy Project
    On June 22nd and 23rd we hosted a second plastic pollution strategy meeting in Oakland, CA with twenty one participants from around the United States.

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FullSizeRenderMeet Kate Bathras, UPSTREAM’s New Program Associate and Development Coordinator

A little background

Kate joined UPSTREAM in June, bringing with her experience in small business and nonprofit management, event planning, development and communications. She began her career at her alma mater, Bowdoin College, working in the Office of Events and Summer Programs and in the Division of Student Affairs. She later served as the General Manager of a neighborhood natural foods store, and most recently as the Business Manager at the Juniper Hill School for Place-Based Education. With a degree in sociology, Kate has an interest in systems analysis and design. She brings this perspective to her work at UPSTREAM, where she is thrilled to be working on the issue of plastic pollution, for which she has a long-standing passion.

Kate lives in Alna, Maine with her husband Tim, daughter, Norah and various pets.  She enjoys tennis, yoga, and cooking and sharing meals with friends.  She can often be found spending time in the woods or by the ocean.

How did you first get involved with UPSTREAM?
It was serendipitous, really.  I had just begun a search for meaningful, engaging, and flexible work that I could do from rural midcoast Maine, when a friend sent me UPSTREAM’s posting advertising contract work.  I began as a contractor in March, focusing on business administration and resource development.  In June I became an UPSTREAM employee and have become more engaged with project work and more deeply involved with the organization ever since.

Which of UPSTREAM’s current programs are you most involved with or excited about?
I am primarily working on the coordinating team for our Plastic Pollution Policy Project (P4), which is a collaborative effort among many organizations in North America to address the issue of plastic pollution.  This work is aligned with a global conversation, so we are participating in a movement that has potential for significant impact on a global level.  I am thrilled to be part of a project that is so meaningful and broad reaching.  I enjoy getting to know our many partners from all over the country, as well as learning and thinking about the many layers of the plastic pollution system.  Coordinating efforts across several groups is a fascinating process, and it is exciting to me that through this work we are able to increase our impact by collaborating to impact the issue at scale.

How will you measure success for UPSTREAM?
UPSTREAM is building off our success in advancing extended producer responsibility and sustainable packaging in the United States, and applying lessons learned to help grow an effective movement to solve plastic pollution. We’re actively collaborating with groups across North America to implement a strategic framework, and we are also engaged in a global conversation.  That in itself is an accomplishment to be celebrated, as large-scale change relies on thoughtful conversation that aims to understand the current problem and develop solutions.

Looking forward, there is much work still to be done, and I feel that UPSTREAM (and the many other groups and people involved in this movement) will have been successful once we have dramatically reduced the amount of plastic pollution in the world and changed the economic system in a way that curtails the production and waste management practices that contribute to the problem.

From an environmental perspective, what keeps you up at night and how can UPSTREAM’s programs make a difference?
Stuff!  I have been personally invested in minimizing the flow of material goods–and the packaging it comes in—in my own home for a long time.  As any conscious consumer knows, though, it’s not easy to do!  Even with a certain level of mindfulness around purchasing decisions, environmentally harmful products and packaging are everywhere, and it’s difficult at the consumer level to avoid them completely.  That’s why I’m thrilled to be working with UPSTREAM and addressing the issue with a systems-level approach.

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