The Story Behind Throw-Away-Free

Our vision is that throw-away becomes yesterday and throw-away-FREE the new normal. That it becomes as uncool to walk around with a throw-away cup as it is to wear a fur coat. That going real and reusable becomes a point of civic, institutional and personal pride. 


When you look at plastic products in the environment - they’re primarily to-go food and beverage packaging. We think of these items in terms of three potential intervention strategies:

  • Product Bans: On one side, there’s the low-hanging fruit - like plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery, styrofoam, bags, etc. They are unnecessary and/or easily replaceable with reusables. From our perspective, these types of products are ripe for outright bans, fees to discourage their use, or policies that make them available only upon request.
  • Design Challenges: On the other side, there are products that require a 12-18 month shelf life - where plastic provides real value for which there aren’t good substitutes today - think energy bar wrappers and potato chip bags. We need innovative materials here that if they get into the environment, they degrade quickly with no toxic impacts.
  • Source Reduction and Reuse: But in the middle, there’s huge opportunities for progress right now - primarily around how we access food and drinks when we’re out and on the go. Start-up businesses providing reusable coffee cups, to-go boxes and dishware services to restaurants and innovative policy for restaurants’ dine-in customers to greatly reduce throw-away already exist. We need more of them; we need them to scale and we need them to spread across the country. They help us get what we want without all the waste.

Throw-Away-Free Strategies

Here are UPSTREAM’s three core strategies to help transform our throw-away society to a culture of stewardship:

  1. Throw-Away-Free Places: Persuade iconic venues, institutions, restaurants and food-service businesses to become Throw-Away-Free Places. Practically, this means these businesses and institutions commit to virtually eliminate throw-away products; serve their customers on real and reusable plates, cups and cutlery when dining-in; and engage their customers around why it matters, and why it’s better.
  2. Throw-Away-Free Communities: Create the conditions for reuse businesses to start and scale and throw-away-free to become the new norm. Host innovation labs and Shark Tank-like events to spur and scale reusable start-ups. Seed policy that says when you’re sitting down at a restaurant (or cafeteria, food court, etc.), you will be served on real plates and bowls with real cups, spoons, knives and forks. Policies that support community reuse businesses for to-go cups and containers can follow, like charges on throw-away products.
  3. Throw-Away-Free Living: Launch social marketing campaigns to make Throw-Away-Free the new norm. We know how powerful social media, influencers and ad campaigns are to persuading people to purchase products, change behaviors or adopt certain mindsets. These tactics and platforms can be used to market throw-away-free as desirable, better and more fun than throw-away.

Just like kids today can’t remember what it was like when people smoked on airplanes - we want their kids to not be able to remember what it was like when we threw everything away. It’s time for Throw-Away-Free.