UPSTREAM Quarterly – September 2015

Project Updates | UPSTREAM Highlights| In the News  | Upcoming Events | Spotlight

The Evolution of EPR for Packaging Continues…

2015-Prindiville-croppedBy Matt Prindiville, Executive Director

As UPSTREAM fans know, we have been intimately involved in the U.S. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) packaging policy discussions and debates over the last four years. This last spring, we developed and are promoting a model shared responsibility for packaging bill, which would require consumer goods companies to pay into a fund that would be managed by a diverse group of stakeholders. The funds would be used on proven strategies and tactics to boost recycling and prevent litter. A version of this bill was introduced in Rhode Island last year, and advocates in several states are looking into introducing it next year.

The genesis for this bill came from multiple dialogues that we have either participated in or facilitated with stakeholders up and down the supply chain. From our experience, most of the stakeholders in the recycling supply chain – local governments, collectors, processors and end-users – want the increased investment (that would come from producer fees) to optimize the recycling systems where they operate. However, they’re not interested in losing control over operations to consumer brands, which would be the case in a 100% producer-financed and controlled recycling system, such as the new model in British Columbia or most of the European EPR systems.

iStock_reduce-reuse-recoverFrom our perspective, a shared responsibility approach – which balances the investment from producer fees on packaging and taxpayer and/or ratepayer funding, with shared control among key stakeholders – may be the key to making EPR work politically in the United States. You can read the details about our model legislation here. This model addresses many of the core concerns from our fellow advocates in the zero waste community. It does not upend existing business relationships between local governments and the waste and recycling industry. Local governments do not lose any control over their recycling programs to producer-consortiums.

What it does is ensure that consumer goods companies help pay for the stewardship of the packaging they put into the marketplace. The monies received are managed, and the responsibility shared, by a diverse group of stakeholders representing each part of the packaging and recycling supply chains. Their purview is to boost recycling and prevent litter through investment in proven strategies to so. While there are some challenges with this model, we believe it provides a politically-viable path forward in the United States, and more broadly represents the interests of the key stakeholders that will be necessary to have on board to win.

Our bill aims at not just getting the beverage industry to help pay for recycling and litter prevention, but every other major consumer goods company to pay their fair share as well.  We have worked hard to address the concerns of local governments, public interest groups and progressive members of the waste and recycling industry, and we’re now working with policy makers to move these ideas forward around the country. Stay tuned!

Project Updates   

turtle_eating_plastic_bagsUPSTREAM Launches Plastic Pollution Policy Project (P4)
In June, UPSTREAM launched the Plastic Pollution Policy Project (P4) to help build and sustain the movement to end ocean plastic pollution. 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 purpose of the P4 Project is to assemble the core plastic pollution organizations to develop a set of common goals, strategies, and integrated campaigns to solve marine plastic pollution.

Our first face-to-face meeting will take place November 5-6 in Berkeley, CA and will be facilitated by Beth Tener from New Directions Collaborative. Stay tuned for more information as this project develops.

Recycling Business Packaging Policy Dialogue Wraps Up
After concluding our national dialogue with local governments that led to the creation of Advancing Local Governments Interests through EPR for Packaging, we shifted our focus to the waste and recycling industry and created the Recycling Business Packaging Policy Project. The purpose of the project has been to: (1) Identify the key barriers to support for EPR from recycling businesses; (2) Develop policies that directly address those barriers and win support for a strong, market-based EPR proposal.

We held our final call for the project on July 8th. Overall, it was a remarkably productive dialogue and the participants – representing a broad spectrum of national waste management companies, recyclers, and materials suppliers) – were surprisingly candid and open about the issues. We developed and sent a final survey to the participants and drafted a discussion paper. Once we fold in the final survey results, we will conduct a short group review process and release the paper this fall.

Town_HallWorking to Engage Business on Model Packaging Legislation
In several states around the country, public-interest NGOs, local governments, and some recycling businesses have already organized to move EPR packaging policy forward. What we need now is for these groups to focus on policies that determine 1) how much corporations should contribute to recycling their packaging, and 2) how much control they should have over the systems they are investing in. We developed model legislation that builds on four years of work and multiple dialogues with these constituencies. At this point, we are shifting focus to engage a small, select group of proactive people from industries up and down the supply chain to negotiate and build support for the model bill.

A New Push for Toxic-Free Furniture and Furniture Stewardship
We’re working to develop policies to address the coming wave of unwanted couches contaminated with brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and to steward new furniture in circular economy systems. At this point we’re focused on data gathering and policy development. We’re working with a national team of experts to learn about the furniture industry, existing and potential policies and technological opportunities and barriers. The team is currently reviewing draft legislation, which we recently developed.

UPSTREAM Highlights

group boat photoUPSTREAM sails with 5 Gyres into the Bermuda Triangle to Research Plastic in the Oceans
Matt set sail with the 5 Gyres Sea Change Plastic Pollution Research Expedition to Bermuda Triangle in June. He had an incredible trip through the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre with an impressive crew of research scientists, advocates, and ocean adventure athletes. Matt was invited to be a voice for policies to address plastic pollution on the trip, which included a documentary film crew. If you haven’t read his blog on the trip yet, you can check it out here.

UPSTREAM presents at the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators Annual Meeting
In July, Matt was invited to pull together a panel for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators annual meeting in Seattle, WA. The panel was called Beyond Recycling, Plastic Pollution and Sustainable Materials: How Producer Responsibility for Packaging can Help Build the Circular Economy, and featured Matt and Dick Lilly, former Recycling Director for the City of Seattle.

Institute for Local Self Reliance: “The State of the Art of EPR for Packaging in the United States” Matt was invited to be the featured presenter on a webinar organized by the Institute for Local Self Reliance, which additionally featured Neal Seldman from ILSR with several commenters. Matt delivered a 20 minute presentation on the Evolution of EPR for Packaging in the United States. Listen to the presentation.

In the News

Upcoming Events

  • NRDC Eco-Salon: The State of Recycling in the US – September 17: NYC, NY. Matt will be a guest speaker at an NRDC sponsored event in NYC.
  • Resource Recycling Conference September 30: Indianapolis, IN. Matt will be a featured speaker on a packaging panel at this significant conference for the recycling industry.


Ruth GaulkePlease meet, Ruth Gaulke, President of Rebel Writer and Communications Consultant for UPSTREAM for the last two years. Ruth is a valuable member of the UPSTREAM team, and helps create and publish all our various communications content (including this newsletter):

Q. How did you get interested in becoming a communications professional?
I fell into it really. I worked in the Information Technology field for more than 10 years as a programmer and then as a manager. Hated every second of it! But I perfected my logical approach to every situation. A new master’s program in professional writing was added to the curriculum at Kennesaw University. I graduated and realized that Communications was a field that fit my skill set and personality. After moving to Denver and getting a master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Management, I knew I wanted to focus my efforts in communicating for environmental/sustainable organizations.

Today, Communications is so very important. Organizations need to tell their stories and create excitement around their endeavors. The key is to be clear, concise, and interesting because we are all so busy and don’t have the time to read everything that lands in our mailboxes!

Q. What issues are you most passionate about?
Polar bears, elephants, and humpback whales – and their existence in the near future. I was fortunate to witness all of these creatures in their natural habitats during some amazing travel adventures over the years. It troubles me to think that they might go away – and we have a hand in that. The whales are doing better, but we need to remain vigilant in protecting them and their environment.

I’m also passionate about education and setting an example for future generations. There are too many mixed messages about recycling, for example, causing confusion among citizens. We need to make it easier so that folks do not have to think too hard before throwing something in the recycle bin.

Q. What interests you particularly about UPSTREAM and our work?
In the last two years I learned a lot by working on UPSTREAM’s Communications efforts and more importantly listening to both Bill and Matt address specific issues. As a result, I look at packaging differently and pretty much drive my husband nuts when it comes to going through the trash and picking out the recyclable items.

UPSTREAM can be a vehicle for changing behaviors, and not just individuals, but corporation and industry practices. I feel empowered by being a part of the work UPSTREAM does.

Q. What do you think UPSTREAM needs to do to take our communications to the next level?
I think we need to focus on telling our story but narrowing it down to project news. There are many organizations and projects out there for folks to support. We need to broadcast our updates and successes via all mediums and more frequently. At the same time, we need to keep our supporters educated on industry news via our email lists and social media. I created a new Communications plan for 2016 that will be reviewed with the committee soon.

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