By Matt Prindiville, Executive Director
UPSTREAM was started by a dedicated group of friends and environmental activists in 2003. The two founders, Dr. Bill Sheehan and Helen Spiegelman, were pioneers of the Zero Waste movement in the United States and Canada. Through their work together in the 1990s on expanding recycling and composting, they soon realized that while recycling is important, we cannot recycle our way to a truly sustainable future.
They saw global production and consumption systems that were simultaneously driving the destruction of our wild places and local economies, and causing climate disruption, toxic pollution and widespread species collapse. No amount of interventions at the end of the pipe were going to change this paradigm.
They knew that to solve these problems, we have to work upstream. We have to build a circular economy where products are designed with safe, sustainable materials and produced with renewable energy. We have to ensure that consumer products and packaging are redesigned to either safely biodegrade or become manufacturing inputs for the next generation of products. And we have to build and sustain the infrastructure to make it possible.
Helen, Bill and our founding Board of Directors recognized that the source of many of our environmental problems are rooted in a lack of accountability for the downstream impacts of poor decisions made by major companies. As an antidote, we became the first national organization to widely promote extended producer responsibility (EPR) as a transformative solution to these problems. EPR policies make consumer goods companies legally responsible for the environmental and social impacts of their products. When implemented well, EPR helps ensure corporations design their products with sustainable materials, and finance the systems to collect and recycle their products and packaging – building the circular economy along the way.
Over the years, we developed policies and organized public interest groups, government officials, leading companies, and citizens to change the way we make products and use materials. UPSTREAM has been the catalyst and clearinghouse for incubating and creating multiple national coalitions and campaigns in this service. By organizing diverse constituencies into powerful networks and aligning them around system-changing solutions, we can effect change at a high level with limited resources. Our efforts – and those of our partners and networks – have established a legacy of transformative policy that is addressing the environmental impacts of products and changing the way we do business. More than 70 producer responsibility laws covering 13 different types of products were adopted in 34 states since our founding in 2003.
While we have made great progress, even greater work is ahead as we turn to the issue of ocean plastic pollution that has begun to capture the public’s attention and concern. We recently organized a two-day strategy meeting in Berkeley with 27 of the leading individuals and organizations – working on plastic pollution in the United States – to begin the process of addressing the issue at a systems scale. Over the two days, the leaders of this movement brought their passion and expertise to the table and began to chart a path toward creating a world without plastic pollution.
We know that laws alone cannot accomplish this. Solving ocean plastic pollution will require massive changes in the way we use plastics – limiting their use for certain applications, stewarding the plastics we decide to use, and innovating to create safer and better materials for people and the planet. We need integrated policy, market, science and grassroots strategies and an aligned global movement to accomplish this. We are working in partnership to build a new North American network that can develop and leverage solutions-oriented campaigns into real-world impacts.
UPSTREAM’s future will always be grounded in empowering people to change the systems which enable widespread ecological destruction and human suffering. We will challenge our current cultural paradigm that says our highest and best use as human beings is to be consumers, and engage people to become citizens and co-creators of more just, healthy and sustainable economies.
We will work to build a sustainable future. Will you join us?
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Plastic Pollution Policy Project (P4) Launches with First Strategy Meeting
In early November, UPSTREAM facilitated a two-day strategy meeting in Berkeley, California with 27 individuals from many of the leading organizations and several funders working on ocean plastic pollution. While these organizations have achieved remarkable success in identifying and telling the world about the problem and realized significant policy wins, there are a number of structural challenges that the movement needs to address: 1) how to align around solutions and campaigns to have a greater impact, and 2) how to grow and coordinate efforts nationally and internationally.
As part of this process, UPSTREAM developed an extensive survey cataloging the breadth and depth of the US organizations working in the field, existing campaigns, solutions focus, data gaps, alignment issues, and other key indicators. In order to get the next level, we need sustaining support and funding, greater infrastructure and resources, and more alignment and coordination around the highest-leverage areas of intervention. At the end of the meeting, UPSTREAM and the P4 participants decided to explore building a US network to end ocean plastic pollution; and identified the next steps.
Sustainable Packaging Project Refines Model EPR Policy
UPSTREAM continues to work on EPR packaging policy in several states. Over the last several months, we’ve convened a number of discussions with important stakeholders around our model bill. We’ve also applied the lessons learned from the first year of implementation of the British Columbia packaging law, to refine and improve the model. In order to build greater support in target states, we expanded our outreach efforts and are developing a cost/benefit analysis of the systems change that this policy represents.
Applying Lessons Learned from Canada on Packaging Policy
The experiences in both British Columbia and Ontario provide a unique guideline toward how to establish EPR for packaging in the United States with ample opportunities to learn what to do, and what not to do. Ontario has had 20+ years of experience with a shared responsibility model, and BC is the only jurisdiction in North America, where a full producer responsibility program has been successfully implemented. Many British Columbia municipal officials here have expressed enthusiasm for this program development. UPSTREAM is working to connect US local governments with their counterparts in Canada to promote awareness and build greater support for EPR policy moving forward in the United States.
Addressing the Climate Impacts of Wasted Packaging
While the wasting of recyclable packaging in landfills and incinerators represents lost economic opportunities and jobs – including more than 11 billion dollars in material value – it also represents significant climate emissions that could be avoided through utilizing these materials in circular economy systems. UPSTREAM will conduct further analysis on the prospective carbon reductions from increasing the recycling of packaging and how policies can drive this change.
Furniture Stewardship Discussion Continues
Advocates focused on the need for an incentive return program for low income residents to exchange furniture with toxic flame-retarded foam to be replaced with safer materials. Similarly, environmental health leaders want to ensure that chemical manufacturers are responsible for the management of the hazardous chemicals they sold to furniture manufacturers. UPSTREAM has been involved in developing model EPR policy, but this approach faces significant legal and political hurdles that need to be addressed in order to move forward. Given these hurdles, we are working on a peer-reviewed white paper that highlights the fundamental changes taking place in the furniture market that necessitates a dynamic new furniture stewardship system. Any new system must be able to protect people from toxic exposure to contaminated furniture and materials, while building circular design and stewardship principles into the management of safe furniture for the future.
- UPSTREAM featured at Resource Recycling Conference in Indianapolis. Matt was a featured speaker on a plenary panel for one of the recycling industry’s largest trade shows. He spoke about the Evolution of EPR for Packaging and debated several industry representatives on its merits. See his presentation here.
- Engaging entrepreneurs around EPR and solving plastic pollution. Matt gave a presentation to 20 entrepreneurs from the Think Beyond Plastic technology accelerator on policy opportunities to help scale the deployment of innovations to problem plastics.
- Applying systems analysis and network-building to plastic pollution. UPSTREAM developed a webinar featuring Jennie Curtis from the Garfield Foundation and Beth Tener from New Directions Collaborative on the opportunities and challenges associated with systems analysis for network building.
- UPSTREAM in NYC at “State of Recycling in the US” Eco-Salon. Matt was a featured guest speaker at an NRDC-sponsored event in New York City. Matt spoke about why he got involved in working to build the circular economy in the United States, and the need for organizations like UPSTREAM and NRDC to help create it.
- Science Forum: UPSTREAM works to address furniture contaminated with toxic flame retardants. Jamie was invited to a convening of scientists and policy makers to understand the science behind flame retardant composition in order to identify policy solutions for safe management.
- Mother Jones: Surprise! These 15 Common Grocery Store Items Are Almost Never Recyclable – 12/7/15
- One Green Planet: This is Awkward … Biodegradable Plastic is Making Us Produce MORE Trash. Here’s What to Do Instead – 12/7/15
- Environmental Leader: Radical Rethink: The Birth of Circular Manufacturing – 11/25/2015
- Bangor Daily News OP ED: How Maine can keep toxic chemicals out of its furniture, once and for all – 11/20/15
- Waste360: New Roles for Solid Waste Managers in the Anthropocene – 11/20/15
- Environmental Leader: The Profitable Shift to a Circular Economy – 11/19/2015
- GreenBiz: 4 Ways Starbucks Can Fix Its Cup Recycling Dilemma – 11/9/15
- Resource Recycling: Packaging players to discuss producer responsibility in California – 11/17/15
- Arctic Newswire: ‘Garbage patches’ of marine plastic have reached the Arctic Ocean – 10/26/15
- Environmental Leader: Carpet, Mattress Recycling Made Simple – 10/15/15
- Solid Waste & Recycling: BC Tops EPR Canada Report Card with First Ever A – 10/13/15
- GreenBiz: You say “recycling is garbage?” Trash that argument – 10/12/15
- Resource Recycling: UPDATED: Industry bites back after New York Times recycling column – 10/13/15
- Resource Recycling: Ten takeaways from the Resource Recycling Conference – 10/13/15
- The Guardian: Coke, Walmart and others kick off $100m recycling fund with three new projects – 09/25/2015
- Resource Recycling: Closed Loop Fund announces $7.8 million in recycling loans – 09/24/15
- Waste360: EREF Study Sheds New Light on Recycling’s Impact – 09/11/15
- The New York Times: Judge Strikes Down New York City’s Ban on Foam Food Containers – 09/22/15
- International Business Times: Majority of world’s turtles ingest plastic and human rubbish, scientists say – 09/15/15
Meet, Evan J. Segal, businessman, public servant, philanthropist, and author dedicated to providing business leaders with the knowledge, wisdom, and information that will help them grow their businesses in today’s challenging – and rapidly changing – environment. He recently joined UPSTREAM’s Advisor Team.
Q. Please talk about your experience on the White House Innovation and Information Policy Task Force and the Federal CFO Council. I was asked by the Secretary to serve as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Representative to the White House Innovation and Information Policy Working Group (WHIIP). The goal of WHIIP was to provide a government-wide forum to support innovation in the U.S. economy as well as government. I worked with various leaders in the USDA to assemble a USDA Innovation Summary, which provided an opportunity to highlight ongoing or planned innovations within the department as well as identify barriers that the group could address.
The CFO Council – the CFOs and Deputy CFOs of the largest federal agencies and senior officials of OMB and Treasury – work collaboratively to improve financial management in the U.S. Government. The Council was established to “advise and coordinate the activities of the agencies of its members on such matters as consolidation and modernization of financial systems, improved quality of financial information, financial data and information standards, internal controls…”
One of the biggest challenges of working in the Executive Branch is that you do not control your own budget. While you provide your initial budget proposal, the Congressional Agriculture Committees adjust it to meet their own priorities. This often means that initiatives focused on innovation, efficiency, and process improvement are sacrificed in order to meet the quid pro quo needs of Congress.
Q. What inspired you to write your book: From Local to Global: Smart Management Lessons to Grow Your Business and what have you learned from the experience? After successfully leading the evolution of my company (Dormont Manufacturing Company) from a small business into a successful international company, I realized that I had learned many invaluable lessons along the way. Building a strong, highly motivated team, we achieved a tenfold increase in sales and profits and created several hundred new jobs. Through a series of speeches to executives at national trade shows and graduate business students, I found that the knowledge that I had gained was relevant and applicable to business owners and managers. My goal in these presentations was to provide business leaders with some of the knowledge and wisdom that helped grow our business in today’s challenging environment. I decided to write this book to provide these lessons learned to a broader audience.
Throughout numerous speeches, presentation and interviews, I found that people are always interested in ideas and experiences that may enable them to work smarter – and be more successful.
Q. How will your continued efforts impact EPR/sustainable packaging/plastic pollution and the challenges the issues face in the coming years? I hope to bring my experience as a business leader, in government and in the non-profit world to help UPSTREAM fulfill its mission and goals. Helping Matt and the UPSTREAM team gain momentum to achieve a greater impact will help further address the challenges created by pollution.
Q. What keeps you up at night? Thinking about climate change and the threat to the future of our planet. This is compounded in knowing that answers to challenging environmental questions are technically available and/or feasible – but vested interests, corporate lobbyists, and politicians beholden to financial supporters prevent meaningful progress.
Q. What inspired you to become an UPSTREAM advisor? The desire to improve our global environment, leaving the world a better place for our children.