Over the last quarter, we’ve notched some big wins, shared incredible stories and ensured our grassroots partners have the support they need to thrive.
Storytelling: Honoring Native Voices on Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Story of Stuff celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day with two big storytelling content drops: a new animated video in The World We Need series featuring Bernadette Demientieff, and a new Instagram series featuring activists from our Grassroots Grants program.
Bernadette, leader of the Alaskan Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in tribe, shares her deeply personal story of leaving and reconnecting with her ancestral land. Alaska is melting at twice the rate of the rest of the world, and with it, the livelihoods of its Native people. What’s more, Big Oil is trying to disrupt the ecosystem even more by drilling the Arctic Circle. Bernadette takes us behind the fight to save her melting home.
We’re also excited to launch The Power and Promise of Grassroots Environmentalists, a new social media series profiling the frontline leaders forging real, winnable solutions to our environmental and social problems. These incredible activists are all recipients of a Story of Stuff Project Grassroots Grant and this series emerged from a survey of our grantee partners, who requested we use our platform to elevate their campaigns and projects. Look out for the launch of this series with a profile of Frankie Orona of Society of Native Nations on our Instagram!
And there’s more – we’ll continue our inspiring series Solving Plastic with a new set of innovative solutions from around the world. First up is Chile-based Algramo, a company that makes zero-waste shopping accessible to folks in middle- and lower-income neighborhoods by using vending machines to refill containers. We can’t wait to share these new videos with you!
Big Win! Formosa’s ‘Cancer Alley’ Air Permit Denied
Story of Stuff Grassroots Grantees in Louisiana and Texas celebrated a pair of stunning victories over global plastics giant Formosa. In the region known as Cancer Alley, a Louisiana court denied air permits that Formosa needed to build its proposed petrochemical complex in St. James Parish. The decision is a major win for grantees RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and others, in a years-long fight. The permits would have allowed Formosa to emit over 800 tons of toxic pollutants into the air, exacerbating environmental racism and harming the health of the area’s predominantly Black residents.
In Point Comfort, Texas, the first phase of a multimillion dollar cleanup of Formosa’s plastic nurdle pollution and discharge will begin this month – an effort led by our grantee San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, who brought the largest citizen Clean Water Act suit in history against Formosa.
Formosa will pay $50 million in environmental mitigation fines settling the suit, and additional daily fines for future discharges, which to date are an additional $7.4 million for the 330 days of discharges of plastics by Formosa after the settlement. All mitigation payments go into the Matagorda Bay Mitigation Trust for local environmental projects.
Grassroots Grants: New York City’s Sure We Can Buys Their Lot
With help from Story of Stuff Community members like you, Sure We Can surpassed their fundraising goal to buy the lot they were renting in Brooklyn, NY, guaranteeing their canners a permanent home. As the only non-profit, unhoused-friendly beverage container redemption center in New York, these canners play an outsize role in keeping millions of plastic containers out of the waste stream and the environment. Story of Stuff previously produced a special documentary on these remarkable canners, and we’re proud to have contributed a total of $15,000 to Sure We Can’s fundraising campaign, with $10,000 raised from our generous Community, and $5,000 funded through the Grassroots Grants program.
Plastics: Fighting the Bad & Building the Good in our Home State
As we made clear in The Story of Plastic, our Emmy-award winning documentary, incinerators are a nasty business. So we were proud that the Story of Stuff Community provided timely support to help pass AB 1857 in California this year, ending an important subsidy for waste incinerators that are pumping toxins into the most highly polluted communities in California. Governor Newsom signed the bill into law last month, ending a crucial financial lifeline for the last two remaining waste incinerators in the state and likely spell the beginning of the end for these super polluters in Long Beach and Stanislaus County.
Our Community’s work on the legislation builds upon the financial support The Story of Stuff Project’s Grassroots Grants program has provided to the two environmental justice organizations leading the fight to close these incinerators: Valley Improvement Project and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.
And we’re not done yet: just this month our Digital Media Producer Miguel Astudillo and Lead Campaigner Sam Pearse were in Stanislaus County conducting interviews for a short documentary we’re producing on Valley Improvement Project’s campaign. More soon, but we hope to release the short film in early 2023, keeping the pressure on Covanta – the company behind the incinerator – and state leaders to retire the incinerator.
Of course, it’s one thing to fight the bad, but it’s just as important to build the good; we’re doing that by supporting zero waste solutions to the plastics crisis as well. This year, in addition to ending the subsidization of incineration, our Community won important updates to California’s bottle bill – one of the most important levers to reduce plastic pollution and drive a transformation to reusable packaging at scale.
We secured $25 million in funding to kickstart the use of refillable beverage containers in the program, and up to $200 million in investments in reverse vending machines and bag drop systems, which will enable the public to more conveniently redeem deposits on bottles and cans in the coming years. Equally important, and a core demand in our report published on the subject earlier this year, retailers will no longer be able to opt-out of their responsibility to redeem deposits on bottles and cans.
Our Community ensured decision-makers in Sacramento heard about the real problems with the bottle bill through meetings with legislators, citizen science investigations, targeted advocacy work and establishing a consistent narrative in the media. Next up: ensuring that these investments in convenient return and refill are spent in the communities most impacted by the plastics crisis.
There’s little as incongruous as a park system like America’s National Parks allowing the sale of single use plastics in concessions at jewels like Yosemite or the Everglades. So at the outset of the Biden Administration, we gathered with partners to call on the Department of the Interior to ban the sale of single use plastics in our nation’s sixty three National Parks.
Earlier this year, we celebrated the executive order to phase out single use plastics from National Parks by 2032 – but 10 years is just too long to wait for this significant plastics reduction milestone. Our plan is to front load and accelerate that timeline so that most of the progress is achieved in the next few years and cannot be reversed.
This summer, activists across the country headed to national parks to clean up plastic waste and collect data for a #PlasticFreeParks Brand Audit. The Brand Audit will help identify the top companies and concessionaires who are holding up the timeline – and allow us, along with campaign partners, to apply pressure accordingly. We have already held constructive meetings this summer with deputies in the Department of the Interior to deliver on that plan. Stay tuned for the release of the Brand Audit report, and thanks so much for your help on this campaign!
Water Bottling: Keeping the Heat on BlueTriton in California
If you’ve supported the Story of Stuff Project for even a short while, you know we’ve been steadfast defenders of public water against the privatizers in the bottled water industry, in particular BlueTriton Brands, the private equity-owned successor to Nestlé Waters.
Last month, we submitted our closing brief in support of the California State Water Board’s effort to end BlueTriton’s removal of water from the drought-parched San Bernardino National Forest for its Arrowhead brand. We expect the hearing officer overseeing BlueTriton’s appeal to forward a final order to the Water Board for action this fall and when the Board schedules a hearing we’ll need you and all of our supporters to jump in to ensure we end this theft of the public’s water once and for all. Stay tuned!
Stop Junk Mail For Good
Story of Stuff’s program Catalog Choice continues to lead the way as the only free, industry-independent tool for direct mail opt-outs in the U.S. In the first half of 2022, the Catalog Choice community stopped an estimated 2 million pounds of junk mail! If you’re not already a part of the community, join here today.
Thanks for all your continued support and enthusiasm for The Story of Stuff Project. We encourage you to get in touch with us – we’re happy to hear from you with any questions or words of advice!