Speaking for the Oceans
Most of you probably know the tale of the Lorax – that wonderful story from Dr. Seuss about a small creature that “Speaks for the Trees,” and the Onceler, an entrepreneur hell-bent on destroying a vibrant forest of truffala trees to make his thneeds. As you may remember, the Lorax tries to persuade the Onceler to stop the madness and save what is left of the forest before it becomes too late.
I love this story. I remember the librarian reading it to me aloud when I was a kid, and the message just stuck. It’s one of those archetypal stories that forms in the psyche and won’t let go. And it’s one of the first stories that got me to start paying attention to the problems afflicting the natural world from human activity.
And as I started to pay attention to the problem of plastic pollution, the parallels between the Lorax and this issue started to become clear. Do you remember the thneeds from the Lorax? Well, in case you forgot – “A thneed’s a fine something that all people need. It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat. But it has other uses. Far beyond that. You can use it for carpets! For pillows! For sheets! Or curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!”
From my reading, Dr. Seuss was saying that a thneed is the next “gotta-have-it” product. And of course, today – plastic forms the material substance of most of our modern-day thneeds. It’s an incredible useful material that has dramatically enhanced the ability of humans to create, manufacture, package, sell and use consumer goods of all varieties. And there has been a tremendous amount of benefit from the creation and use of plastics, including in technology, health care, transportation, communications, etc.
But it’s a double-edged sword. And today, we know that the benefits of plastics are counterbalanced by the problems that plastics create – toxic chemicals leaching into food and beverages, air and water pollution near plastics manufacturing plants, impacts on climate change from using non-renewable oil and natural gas as source materials, throw-away products, and of course – plastic pollution in the environment and our oceans.
Dr. Seuss understood the powerful human impulse to destroy and trash the commons in the pursuit of wealth and to rationalize away the costs of doing business onto society and the environment. And plastic pollution is another Lorax-ian tale. To sum up the problem succinctly, we are wrecking the oceans because of our addiction to cheap, plastic products and packaging, and a comprehensive global failure to steward these materials properly.
UPSTREAM is working to address plastic pollution through our state policy work on packaging and by leading the Make It, Take It Campaign in partnership with a number of organizations working to solve marine plastic pollution. This month, we’re launching a new project called the Plastic Pollution Policy Project (P4) to help create a sustainable movement that can successfully engage decision-makers and the public to solve plastic pollution through innovation and effective policies. Stay tuned.
The world needs more people to get serious about ending plastic pollution. This is a problem that has been created in the last 50 years, and it’s one that we can solve by creating a culture of stewardship around plastics – limiting their use for certain applications, innovating around the creation and deployment of marine-friendly materials, and building and maintaining the infrastructure to properly utilize them again and again for humanity’s needs, now and into the future. And if we’re going to be successful, we need more Loraxes. We need more people to stand up and “speak for the oceans.”
On June 8th, Matt will head out on 5 Gyres Sea Change Plastic Pollution Research Expedition in the Bermuda Triangle. For more information about our take on how to solve marine plastic pollution, check out our blog post.
UPSTREAM Releases Model Packaging Legislation
On April 28th, we released our shared responsibility model packaging legislation. This was the product of multiple dialogues and discussions with local governments and industry. We conducted a bill drafting and review process with a dozen trusted friends and allies in state and local government, NGOs, and businesses. We are rolling the bill out in various policy circles. A bill based on the model has been introduced in Rhode Island, and elements of the bill were included in draft legislation introduced in Massachusetts.
Recycling Business Packaging Policy Dialogue Wrapping Up
Over the spring, UPSTREAM organized and held a policy dialogue with 17 representatives from US waste, recycling and commodities industries. The purpose of the project is to discuss issues, concerns and opportunities related to extended producer responsibility for packaging, and to identify policies which can garner support from recycling businesses. We’ve had a very productive discussion thus far. In our initial survey process, 77% of the participants said they thought “some form of product stewardship or EPR for packaging.” We will be holding one more call and will then develop a discussion paper for release resulting from the discussion.
Make It, Take It Campaign Releases Next Action to Pressure KRAFT Foods
On April 30th, we and our campaign partners released the next action of the Make It, Take Campaign. We continue to pressure KRAFT Foods, the maker of Capri Sun juice, to “Forget the Pouch and Respect the Earth.” An estimated 1.4 billion of the pouches are landfilled or littered each year in the United States. Only 1% are estimated to be collected nationwide, which means that nearly every Capri Sun pouch has been wasted or littered since they were introduced in the 1970s. KRAFT responded to our initial action but declined to address our concerns. We then sent a response letter back to KRAFT that included 23 organizations representing more than 5 million members acknowledging their response to the campaign and urging them to open up a dialogue on developing a company-wide sustainable packaging policy encompassing design, reduction, reuse and recycling, litter prevention and pollution mitigation. They missed the deadline to respond, and it looks like they’re trying to wait us out. Our campaign partners are still rolling out actions, and we’re working to engage KRAFT on solutions over the summer.
UPSTREAM Launches EPR for Furniture Project
In the fall of 2014, members of the US environmental health community reached out to us to help them address the toxic legacy of couches and furniture contaminated with toxic brominated flame retardants. These communities were particularly concerned about the potential health impacts on low-income households, workers, and fenceline communities from the continued use and improper end-of-use management of unwanted BFR-contaminated furniture. In addition to our friends in the environmental health community, several of our local government allies have repeatedly urged us to engage on this issue as unwanted furniture poses a significant financial and logistical burden for them, and EPR is the most viable policy to help address these concerns. EU countries are beginning to roll out EPR policies for furniture, and Canadian provinces have been directed to set up EPR programs by 2018. We have started the first phase of the project, focused on data-gathering from the EU programs, model policy development, and outreach to targeted organizations and individuals.
Plastic Pollution Policy Project (aka P4) Takes Shape
In the intro piece, Matt discussed our work to address plastic pollution in partnership with organizations throughout North America. In the last 10 years, efforts to combat marine plastic pollution have grown from a handful of scientists to a global movement with constituents ranging from community-based advocacy groups, to government and corporate actors, to powerful national and international NGOs. Like many other environmental movements before us, the plastic pollution movement is currently at a crossroads. In order to effectively address the problem, the movement needs to grow, evolve, and integrate around core solutions and campaigns. The P4 project’s purpose is to create a sustainable movement that can successfully engage decision-makers and the public to solve plastic pollution through innovation and effective policies. We are working to support the movement as conveners and facilitators around solutions.
Matt Delivers US Zero Waste Business Conference Plenary Keynote
At USZWBC’s conference in Los Angeles, CA in May, Matt presented Flexible Packaging and other Conundrums – “What are we gonna do with all this stuff?”
Here’s an excerpt of the presentation: Being in the business that we’re in, you can imagine that UPSTREAM’s supporters comprise a lot of die-hard recyclers. You know who I’m talking about, and probably many of our regular readers fit the type. I’m talking about the people that rinse out the produce bag for the hundred and fiftieth time to take back to the store; or that drink their wine out of repurposed glass salsa jars; or that have yogurt tubs dating back to the 1990s with multiple layers of masking tape detailing the leftovers that once occupied the container in the fridge. You know who you are.
Anyway, I was speaking with one of these die-hard recyclers – a fellow named Arthur Boone, who is one of the godfathers of the recycling movement in California. He said, “You know Matt, pretty much everything that comes into my house eventually goes into the green or blue cart. And when I look in my little garbage can, the only things that are left are flexible packaging and other crappy low-value plastics. What are we gonna do with all this stuff?” READ MORE…
Dick Lilly Joins UPSTREAM Staff
Please welcome Dick Lilly who will be helping us with program support. He recently retired after eight years as waste prevention and product stewardship manager and policy advisor for Seattle Public Utilities’ Solid Waste Division. In that role, he represented the city on the Northwest Product Stewardship Council, worked on EPR for mercury-containing lights and architectural paint and for the past two years headed the council’s packaging committee. Read more about Dick Lilly.
Slow start to 2015 Legislative Session
2015 has been a quiet year for new product policy legislation. There are still multiple bills pending, but not a whole lot of progress to date. One bright spot is that our partners in Minnesota have passed the nation’s first toxic flame retardant ban in new upholstered furniture and children’s products. This new law bans the four most toxic chemicals for use in these products. Minnesota firefighters even set a couch a fire to draw attention to the toxic chemicals released and created when furniture treated with unnecessary, toxic flame retardants catch fire.
Rhode Island Packaging Bill Printed
UPSTREAM discussions with stakeholders in Rhode Island a yielded bill introduction – H. 6095 – based on our model legislation for 2015. The bill introduction is the outgrowth of more than three years of discussion on the subject, going back to the Rhode Island Senate Packaging Commission in 2012. The commission took testimony over 2012 and 2013 and yielded a report recommending that the state continue to pursue EPR policies. After several discussions with multiple stakeholders, the consensus from likely supporters was to introduce a draft for discussion purposes only this session. We plan to help inform discussions among local stakeholders and help shape a draft that meets the needs of our primary constituents in the state – local governments and the environmental community.
Local Governments Leading
Another bright spot is the work by local governments to pass EPR ordinances requiring drug companies to pay for the safe disposal of expired or unwanted medicine. Alameda County, San Mateo County and the City of San Francisco have all adopted ordinances, and additional counties are expected to follow. The pharmaceutical industry challenged Alameda’s ordinance and after losing in the appellate court, they attempted to get their case heard by the Supreme Court. On May 26th, the Supreme Court refused to take the case, affirming the rights of local governments to ensure that manufacturers share in the responsibility for the end of life impacts of their products. For more information, read the press release from our friends at the California Product Stewardship Council.
Tell Capri Sun Maker KRAFT to “Forget the Pouch, Respect that Earth”
Capri Sun maker KRAFT tells kids to “Respect the Pouch,” in one of their ad campaigns. We’re asking KRAFT to “Respect the Earth” and stop trashing the planet with unrecyclable packaging waste.
- Waste360: Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal on California Pharmaceutical EPR Law – May 29,2015
- Waste360: Will Flexible Packaging Become Treasure or Remain Trash? – May 22, 2015
- Environmental Leader: Enviro Groups Put the Squeeze on Capri Sun Packaging Waste – May 4, 2015
- Plastics News: Environmental groups ramping up pressure on Kraft’s Capri Sun pouches – April 30, 2015
- The Economist: Recycling in America In the bin – April 22, 2015
- Resource Recycling: Rhode Island mulls extended producer responsibility for packaging – April 1, 2015
- 5 Gyres Plastic Pollution Expedition to Bermuda Triangle: June 8-18: Matt has been invited to be a voice for policies to address plastic pollution, on a research voyage with documentary filmmakers.
- Institute for Self Reliance EPR for Packaging Webinar on June 26. Matt has been invited to be the featured presenter on a webinar organized by Zero Waste advocates.
In an effort to highlight the great work of many sustainability professionals, each issue of this newsletter will feature an UPSTREAM Board member, Advisory Council member, or NGO. Please meet, Clayton Kyle, CEO of CLYNK, a unique, convenient bottle redemption service located in 48 Hannaford supermarkets across Maine.
Talk about CLYNK – how it started; explain the business model, goals for the future, and how the business connects to waste reduction/EPR.
CLYNK began as a response to the inefficient recycling process that existed in the bottle-bill environment within the state of Maine. It’s important to note that bottle-bill states react differently to recycling efforts than states without bottle bills. At this point about 70 – 90 percent of the state’s bottles were returned for recycling, but the process was very unfriendly for the consumer. People stood in line to feed a reverse vending machine with their recyclables and had to repeat the process for each material type. It was an archaic and clunky process.
We established CLYNK to make the process more attractive, easier, and more cost effective. Basically, customers create a CLYNK account at their local Hannaford store or online and receive a free introductory sleeve of 10 free green CLYNK bags (which are also recyclable) to fill with beverage bottles and cans. Customers tag a full bag with their bar code sticker and then drop it at the CLYNK kiosk located in Hannaford supermarkets. CLYNK drivers pick up the bags and take them to the processing building where the bags are opened and the bar code scanned so that customers receive credit for the contents of their bags. The number of bottles and cans equates to a dollar amount, which is then entered into the customers’ accounts. The money accumulates and customers can use the money or donate it to a designated, local charity.
It’s a win-win, community-focused situation for everyone – 4.1 million cubic feet of containers are diverted from landfills each year; customers have an easy process that allows them to support their local grocery chain and also use or donate their CLYNK account balance; and the Hannaford supermarkets benefit with more sales from customers as they drop off their recyclables.
How will your continued efforts impact EPR/sustainable packaging and the challenges it faces in the coming years?
The bottle bill dates back to the early 1970s and could be considered not only an anti-litter program, but also the original EPR program. The basis of a bottle bill is that soda, beer, and wine distributors pay for the return of their packaging. It is highly successful in the markets where bottle bills were established. Initially beverages were all packaged in glass, which is a heavy material. As time went on, plastic and aluminum were introduced and the cost of supporting the bottle bill went down due to the lighter weight of the packaging material. This encouraged some manufacturers to examine their packaging design to see how to make it more effective and limit the amount of heavier and expensive materials.
I see this as an experiment in early EPR. The manufacturers saw the value of their packaging and its reuse cycle. They also lowered their costs by changing their packaging. It was a step in the right direction.
What inspired you to become an UPSTREAM Board member?
I worked with Matt in Maine on many issues including recycling and the bottle bill. I saw UPSTREAM’s EPR focus as a great fit for me to learn more about the concept and its impact across the country while I could bring experience from a business perspective to the table. I also wanted to be a voice in the design of future EPR/ recycle programs and see UPSTREAM as a great influence for those efforts.