Dear friends,

‍We hope you are safe and doing OK. We know that, like us, you may be stuck at home, worried about loved ones, or your job, or about having enough food and toilet paper. Right now, many of us are without childcare, without community, and with a lot of worry and anxiety.

The next several months and possibly even longer will be really hard for everyone around the world. But we’re in this together, and we know this time will end. We will come out the other side looking to rebuild the connections that sustain our communities and economy. In the meantime let’s stick together in the ways we can – sharing information, keeping safe, making soup, and washing our hands.

At UPSTREAM, we want to support you and add value to your lives during this time of crisis. We’ve been getting lots of questions from the UPSTREAM and Break Free From Plastic communities about reuse in a time of pandemics like COVID-19. Here are some thoughts on the common questions we’ve received:


1. Are reusables safe?

– Yes, the short answer is that soap and hot water are effective at killing coronavirus, other viruses, and bacteria. Home and commercial dishwashers are more effective than hand-washing because of the added benefit of high temperature and prolonged washing.

– State health codes ensure that commercial dishwashing will kill all pathogens, and the coronavirus is especially sensitive to soap and heat.

– As Dr. Vineet Menachery, a microbiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch recently said, “I wouldn’t expect any virus to survive a dishwasher.”‍

2. Aren’t disposables safer?

– No, they’re not when compared to properly washed reusables. Single-use disposables can harbor viruses and pathogenic bacteria. They are subject to whatever pathogens have settled on them from manufacture, transport, inventory stocking, and eventual use.

– In addition, according to a recently-released peer-reviewed scientific consensus statement, over 12,000 chemicals are used in food packaging, and many of them are hazardous to human health. Migration of these toxic chemicals out of disposables into our food and drinks is not an issue with non-plastic reusables. ‍

3. Can I use my reusable water bottle or coffee cup?

– Absolutely. Coronavirus mainly spreads through coughs and sneezes, not your reusable water bottle or cup.

– The best water refill options when you’re out and on-the-go are hands-free electronic water refilling stations like you see at the airport. If you don’t have easy access to one of these, then you can use the tap or the water cooler. Just don’t let your water bottle directly touch the spigot, and be mindful about washing your hands after touching communal surfaces.

– The same logic applies to your coffee cup. Just don’t touch your cup directly to the spigot or coffee pot, and wash your hands.

– Also, don’t forget to wash your bottle or cup with soap and water, preferably in a dishwasher.

4. Large coffee chains (like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts) recently announced they are no longer allowing customers to bring their own cups to use and refill in its stores. Do you think this will continue, and what does this mean?

– Today, businesses like Starbucks are rightly focused on how to keep us all safe. But when the coronavirus passes, plastic pollution will continue to be a huge environmental issue.

– The coronavirus crisis is showing us that we don’t have the systems we need for reusable to-go, take-out, and food delivery. Because of this, there is likely to be an explosion of single-use products as restaurants scramble to shift to food delivery to survive, and people shift to dining at home instead of eating out.

– But in parts of the world, companies have already developed reusable to-go services for take-out and food delivery. These businesses provide clean, sanitized reusable cups and to-go containers to restaurants and cafes. The dirty ones are collected, washed and sanitized in commercial dishwashers, then put back into service.

– Imagine a future with food delivery systems built on clean, sanitized reusable to-go containers and cups. How great would it be if we had reusable food delivery systems in place all over the United States like Green Tiffin and Planted Table in San Francisco, and Superfine Tiffins in New York City? Imagine how much less waste would be generated in this crisis if we had all this in place already.

– And so, we’re going to continue to focus on how to help restaurants, cafes and venues – who are going to be greatly impacted – to be empowered and ready to make these changes. Especially because doing so can help them save money.

5. Will coronavirus kill the growing zero waste lifestyle, built on bring-your-own (BYO), reuse, and bulk shopping?

– No, the zero waste lifestyle is here to stay and is gaining more traction every day. While the coronavirus will change many things in our lives for a time, it won’t change our core values like working for healthy people, a healthy planet, and a sustainable economy.

– But just like take-out and food delivery, this crisis is also showing us that we need better systems for BYO and bulk shopping. Hands-free dispensers and methods are part of the solution, as are on-site sanitizing for BYO. In addition, businesses can create new systems to provide clean, sanitized reusable containers for bulk purchasing on deposit – similar to how local dairies are bringing back the reusable milk bottle.

We hope these thoughts and tips are useful to you as you navigate these difficult times. We’re going to be working to provide helpful insights, build community, and add value to your life in the coming months.

If you’re interested, sign up to receive e-mail updates from us, connect with us on social, or stay tuned to the Indisposable Podcast. If you’ve got kids at home, check out our just-launched YouTube channel where they can learn about solutions to plastic pollution – including an episode on how kids got single-use plastic out of their school. We’d also love to hear from you! Drop us an email at or send us a direct message on Instagram or Facebook.

Most importantly, take care of yourself, stay safe and hold your loved ones close.


All our Best,

Matt, Julie, Lauren, Berna, Inder, Eva, Brooking, Erin,
Miriam, Vanessa, Samantha and the rest of the UPSTREAM Team


Chemicals in food packaging: a global health threat

Chemicals in food packaging: a global health threat

Environment groups in Asia Pacific call on policy makers to beef up single-use plastics ban; phase-out toxic chemicals from food packaging; and mandate safe, reusable alternatives

Australia/India/Malaysia/Nepal/Philippines—Close to 200 environmental and public health organizations led by the UNWRAPPED Project (UPSTREAM, Zero Waste Europe, and GAIA) released a Call to Action in response to a recently issued peer-reviewed Scientific Consensus Statement signed by 33 world-renowned scientists warning chemicals used in single-use plastics and food packaging represents a significant threat to human and planetary health-particularly the health of children.

The Consensus statement clearly states the facts:

  • Approximately 12,000 chemicals are intentionally used in packaging and other forms of food contact materials
  • An enormous body of research – over 1200 studies- shows that these chemicals migrate from packaging into food and beverages
  • Amongst those chemicals, many have been proven hazardous for human health: exposure may lead to cancer, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, genotoxicity, chronic diseases (such as atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases), and autoimmune diseases
  • Many of these chemicals are never tested for human health effects
  • For most of these chemicals, their presence is undisclosed

Many of those chemicals, including phthalates, bisphenols and PFAs, are used in single-use packaging, made of plastic but also paper & board. The lack of disclosure by producers regarding chemicals used in packaging means that the risks associated with the use of those packaging cannot be evaluated. Consumers and regulators aren’t the only ones in the dark — many packaging producers and waste managers are unaware of the chemicals present in the packaging they process and possibly recycle in other products.

Hence, close to 200 organizations signed the Call to Action and demanded regulators and industry to protect public health and the environment by acting to:

  1. Ensure full disclosure and traceability of chemicals used in packaging throughout the supply chain;
  2. Restrict the use of hazardous chemicals in food packaging (and products), and prevent regrettable substitution; and
  3. Adopt policies that support the transition towards safe, reusable, and refillable packaging.

The Call to Action is launched globally with simultaneous media events in the Asia Pacific region (Australia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, and Philippines).

We are in close contact with plastic toxins daily and our exposure to chemicals continue to grow as plastic continues to be produced and used. Plastic is not only out there, it’s in all of us!  Consumers can make a difference by refusing single use plastics and food packaged or wrapped in plastics. Stay safe, revive our traditional practices. – Mageswari Sangaralingam, Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia)

The ever-growing body of evidence that plastics is not only damaging our environment but is also a menace to health underscores the urgent need to transition away from single-use plastics, especially as food packaging.  The health and environmental havoc that single-use plastics bring far outweigh any of their perceived benefits, and it is time for us to be smart and start avoiding them to protect our health.  Nothing is more vital than our health, and nothing sustains life better than a healthy environment. – Ramon San Pascual, Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (Philippines)

Australia is on the cusp of significant systemic change following the decision to ban waste exports to our Asia Pacific neighbours.  This week the Australian government held a National Plastics Summit to respond to the global plastic pollution crisis.  The success of these initiatives will depend upon the Australian government’s recognition that plastic food packaging currently represents a global human health threat.  Unless immediate action is taken to address the systemic regulatory failures that have allowed toxic and hazardous substances to be used in plastic food packaging, then there is a very real likelihood that Australia’s circular economy will be poisoned and further harm caused to human health, our environment and future generations.  The Australian government must act swiftly to eliminate toxic and hazardous substances from plastic food packaging and require full life cycle assessments of all chemicals used in plastic production.  It is well past time for the plastic packaging industry to be held accountable for their design failures and the adverse global consequences this has inflicted on human health and our planet. – Jane Bremmer, National Toxics Network (Australia)

Plastic packaged food has flooded the Himalaya in recent times, dramatically changing food habits, especially of the younger generation. This enticement and promotion of ill health needs to stop. These plastic packaging litter the entire Himalaya and retrieving it is near impossible in the high mountain. – Priyadarshinee Shrestha/Rajendra P. Gurung/Roshan Rai, Zero Waste Himalaya, India

For many years in Nepal, we serve our food in leaf plates and clay cups during big social or religious festivals.  Similarly, when we go shopping, we used to get the items in paper or leaf packaging and for liquid items, we get it in glass or metal pots.  We were practicing Zero Waste in Nepal for as long as I can remember.  But nowadays, everything is packed in plastics and other packaging loaded with toxic chemicals.  It is time we return to our traditional practices and discourage the use of those packaging to make ourselves healthy while promoting Zero Waste. – Mahesh Nakarmi, HECAF360 (Nepal)

Our communities are a rich resource of traditional materials, practices and systems that worked without exposing the consumer to the toxic chemicals that came with plastic food packaging.  We got sidetracked for a few decades by the plastic packaging industry.  It’s time to reject this plastic-packaged food culture and reclaim and, if necessary, update and scaleup on the sensible, safe alternatives we used to have. – Beau Baconguis, Plastics Campaigner, GAIA Asia Pacific

In the Philippines, so much of our food is in plastic bags and plastic containers and some people even microwave food in plastics, yet many studies have shown that chemicals can migrate from plastics into food.  About half of the nearly 12,000 chemicals allowed as food additives are food contact chemicals (FCCs) but many of them have never been tested for endocrine disruption and other hazardous properties. – Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, Silliman University, Dumaguete, Philippines

Call to Action

Scientific Consensus Statement

Links to national press releases:

New scientific report reveals toxic and hazardous chemicals in plastic food packaging (Australia)

International experts call for food packaging safety measures (Philippines)



Sonia G. Astudillo, GAIA Asia Pacific Communications Officer, +917-5969286;

Jane Bremmer, National Toxics Network (Australia);

Roshan Rai, Zero Waste Himalaya (India);

Mageswari Sangaralingam, Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia);

Mahesh Nakarmi, HECAF360 (Nepal);

Pats Oliva, Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia Communications Officer (Philippines);


GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) is a worldwide alliance of grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals whose mission is to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. 

UPSTREAM works with businesses, schools, and communities to transition to a throw-away-free culture. We have launched campaigns across the country to make single-use history and “indisposable” the new norm.

Zero Waste Europe is the European network of communities, local leaders, businesses, experts, and change agents working towards the elimination of waste in our society.

We empower communities to redesign their relationship with resources, and to adopt smarter lifestyles and sustainable consumption patterns in line with a circular economy.


European Plastic Pact: a positive gesture but NGOs unimpressed

European Plastic Pact: a positive gesture but NGOs unimpressed

06/03/2020, BrusselsToday 15 EU Member States and 66 companies signed the European Plastic Pact during a high-level event in Brussels. This document, which sets a number of targets aiming at achieving a circular economy for plastics, comes as a result of political discussions led by the Danish, Dutch and French governments. The #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement welcomes some of the ambition of the Pact, but regrets the lack of involvement of civil society in the process and highlights that this initiative remains fully voluntary, and can never replace strong regulatory measures. 

The European Plastic Pact is a largely positive signal from a number of European countries and companies, who acknowledge that reduction measures and product redesign are crucial to address the plastic pollution crisis. #BreakFreeFromPlastic welcomes the commitment to reduce virgin plastic products and packaging by at least 20% by 2025, with at least 10% coming from an absolute reduction of plastics. It is important that signatories of the Pact also monitor and report the progress in reduction per unit (and not only weight) so as to ensure a true reduction in single-use products and packaging.

However, #BreakFreeFromPlastic highlights that the targets set in the Pact remain completely voluntary and that this Pact cannot come as a substitute for legislation, but should complement an ambitious and prompt implementation of EU and national legislation on packaging and single-use plastics. #BreakFreeFromPlastic also notes that there is very limited attention given to the presence of hazardous chemicals in plastic products and packaging, and measures to be taken to prevent toxic recycling [1].

Last but not least, the NGO movement is warning against potential implementation loopholes if the indicators are not properly defined and the exclusion mechanism not enforced, and is calling signatories to frequently and publicly report on progress made. #BreakFreeFromPlastic also notes that, although the Pact aims at bringing actors from across the supply chain together, virgin plastic producers are largely missing from the signatories and this is likely to hinder any significant accomplishment.

#BreakFreeFromPlastic European Coordinator, Delphine Lévi Alvarès said:

“The European Plastic Pact is a significant gesture by some industry and governments but it remains completely voluntary and can never be considered as a replacement for ambitious regulatory measures on single-use plastics and packaging. Moreover, so far the architects of the Pact have only engaged NGOs at the surface level; this is not how we envisage multi-stakeholders processes, and this largely motivates our decision not to sign the Pact. #BreakFreeFromPlastic nevertheless remains keen on playing an advisory role for the implementation and to explore with signatories how to turn some of this ambition into legislative requirements that would apply all across Europe.”


Matt Franklin, Communications Officer at Break Free From Plastic Europe | +44 (0) 7923 373831

Eilidh Robb, Communications Officer at Zero Waste Europe and Rethink Plastic alliance | +32 (0) 273 620 91


[1] Impacts of food contact chemicals on human health: a consensus statement –

#BreakFreeFromPlastic is a global movement of NGOs envisioning a future free from plastic pollution, counting nearly 1,900 organisations from across the world with active members are found in all regions working towards a global, unified vision.


Global Environmental Activists Ask UN to Support Worldwide Fracking Ban

Global Environmental Activists Ask UN to Support Worldwide Fracking Ban

Group represents frontline communities from Europe, Mexico and Pennsylvania, along with researchers and international climate campaigners

New York, NY — A group of environmental activists, public health professionals and campaigners who are fighting fracking, climate change, petrochemicals and plastic pollution met with the United Nations to discuss the harms and threats of gas drilling and petrochemical expansion in their communities, and the necessity of stopping further extraction to combat the global climate crisis.

Activists from Mexico, Ireland and Germany were joined by frontline residents and campaigners from Pennsylvania and New York in the meeting with Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Head of New York Office at UN Environment.

The meeting was the result of an open letter sent to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres last September. That letter — organized by Food & Water Action, its European arm Food & Water Europe and the Breathe Project in Pittsburgh — was signed by nearly 460 grassroots groups, faith communities, celebrities, activists and organizations, including actors Mark Ruffalo, Emma Thompson and Amber Heard, authors and activists Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, fashion icon Vivienne Westwood and her son Joe Corré as well as iconic children’s singer Raffi.

As the groups wrote to Secretary General Guterres, the “continued production, trade and use of fracked hydrocarbons for energy, petrochemicals and plastics torpedoes our global efforts to tackle climate change and violates basic human rights.”

The groups appealed to the United Nations to consider the critical findings it has issued over the years. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESR) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have expressed concern that fracking will make it all but impossible to achieve emissions reductions targets outlined by the Paris Agreement, as well as the impacts of fossil fuel drilling on human rights. As early as 2012, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a “Global Alert” on fracking, concluding that it may have adverse environmental impacts under any circumstances.

All speakers will appear at an evening event, “Global Impacts of Fracking: From Pennsylvania to Europe and Back,” at the CUNY School of Law in Long Island City on the evening following the UN meeting. They will be joined by Rolling Stone journalist Justin Nobel, who will discuss his bombshell article on fracking and radioactivity.


“Fracking has been linked to radioactive brine, higher rates of cancer and nervous, immune, and cardiovascular system problems,” highlights Dr. Sandra Steingraber, Concerned Health Professionals of New York together with Dr. Ned Ketyer, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania. “The gathered scientific evidence shows that women, industry workers, communities of color, and the poor are especially vulnerable to environmental injustices and harm to health and safety from fracking.”

“The petrochemical industry has teamed up with the fracking industry to benefit from cheap fracked ethane to produce more unneeded and environmentally destructive plastic,” says Michele Fetting, Breathe Project together with impacted local activist Lois Bjornson. “Families are suffering from the effects of contaminated air and water and there is increasing fear as fracking activities and the petrochemical build-out show no sign of slowing down.”

“The promise of our current president to stop fracking in Mexico has not been met. All legislation favors the industry in disregard of the rights of communities in extraction areas,” underlines Claudia Campero, Alianza Mexicana contra el Fracking, Mexico.

Eddie Mitchell, Love Letirim, Ireland, adds: “Now that we stopped fracking in Ireland, we’re also forced to fight the fracking industry from infiltrating our energy markets through import pipelines and LNG terminals – undermining all our efforts to move forward towards a clean energy future.”

“After over four years of evidence gathering, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal judges on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change recommended in 2019 that fracking be banned and that the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment be asked to investigate the violations of the rights of humans and nature by the Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction industry,” said Scott Edwards and Andy Gheorghiu, Food & Water Action US and EU. “It’s time for the UN take action and finally recommend a global ban on fracking to tackle one of the worst crises in human history.”

Talk Fracking founder Joe Corré says: “Countries like Britain are employing smoke and mirrors strategies to continue fracking while pretending they’re not. The United Nations must impose a global fracking ban for the sake of humanity. Fracking simply puts another log on the fire of the Climate emergency. It’s no bridging fuel. It’s fossil fuel’s last stand.”

Fashion icon Dame Vivienne Westwood adds: “If we’re serious about saving the planet from Climate devastation, then Fracking – or any other form of extreme energy extraction under a different name – like Acidisation – must be totally outlawed”.


Andy Gheorghiu, Policy Advisor and Campaigner, Food & Water Action Europe,, +49 160 20 30 974

Scott Edwards, Director, Food & Water Justice,, C 914.299.1250



In an aim to re-amplify the call to assess, reduce, and eliminate the use of harmful single-use plastics in healthcare, hospitals and medical institutions in the Philippines together with the bigger break free from plastic movement, pledge to uphold and promote sustainable waste management in order to protect the health of the planet and the people.

“As the only sector with healing as a mission, our hospitals and health organizations have an important leadership role to play in the bigger movement against plastics, because plastic pollution is also a public health issue,” Ramon San Pascual said; Executive Director of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Southeast Asia. He added that, “today, the hospitals where we conducted the first hospital waste and brand audits back in 2018, are already experiencing the impacts of the plastic reduction strategies we have recommended.”

For instance, during the Public Launch of the Break Free From Plastic Healthcare Network in Quezon City, pilot hospitals have shared their initial achievements like Alabang Medical Center where they have experienced reduction in infectious waste volume, and in single-use plastic bottles through installation of water fountains in hospital floors. St. Paul Hospital Cavite shared that they have stopped purchasing non-essential plastics by installing water stations in each hospital floor and providing brewed coffee instead of sachets. On the other hand, the St. Paul’s Hospital in Iloilo has engaged with their supplier in terms of the disposal of purchased goods, and lastly, Mary Johnston Hospital in Tondo, are talking to possible suppliers of glass IV bottles to replace the plastic ones.

San Pascual finally expressed that, “through this project launch and network building, more hospitals are being called to help in the banning of single-use plastics in the health facility and in the communities, to continue in pushing for the right policies and fighting against false solutions like waste-to-energy, and especially in setting an example for other institutions, work places, and even campuses.” ###

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