Last week, we talked about cutting out your convenient plastics: coffee cups, takeout containers, plastic bags, (more coffee cups). As we move forward, however, it is important to mention that reducing single-use plastic consumption is not solely an individual’s responsibility.

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While it is extremely important to be mindful of our consumption and learn to shift to a reuse mindset, we recognize that in addition to behavior change we need systems level change to truly reduce our consumption. Not only that, but there are some elements of waste that are, quite frankly, beyond our control. This week, we are talking about putting our individual plastic consumption into perspective: scope 3 waste, state-level efforts and placing our Plastic Free July efforts into the bigger picture.

Scope 3 waste emissions

Let’s say you are at the grocery store picking out meat or produce. Yes, we can opt for plastic free. However, we don’t know what packaging our groceries came in before they were on the shelves. Not only is this hidden packaging wasteful, it is also carbon- and labor-intensive and contributes to our greenhouse gas emissions.

This type of indirect emissions is called scope 3 emissions, and they are categorized based on the fact that they happen outside of a specific organization or area. When you purchase said groceries, you did not directly produce those emissions, but they are inherently a part of the product purchased.

These “consumption emissions” in the goods and services we consume can be equal or greater than the emissions we directly produce, but their hidden nature can make us feel disconnected from the emissions we are indirectly responsible for.


Extended producer responsibility

One way Maine is combatting scope 3 emissions and waste reduction, is through the Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging law. Maine was the first state in the nation to pass this law, which will require producers of packaging in Maine to pay a fee to a product stewardship organization, which will be created through this bill.

The fee will be eco-modulated based on the cost to recycle the specific material that makes up the packaging, with more recyclable/compostable materials having a lower fee. This will incentivize producers to make more environmentally friendly choices about their packaging and the money they pay will help fund municipal recycling programs so that producers take economic and environmental responsibility for the waste they produce.

No wasted waste reduction efforts

While we need systems level action to combat our scope 3 emissions, there is also power in individual- and community-level action. Community buzz around single-use plastic reduction is meaningful in more ways than one. Not only are individuals recognizing our waste and consumption, but we are connecting our community actions to a cause that impacts our health and surrounding environment.

Keep trying to reduce your single use plastics while also understanding how your actions fit in the bigger picture.


To learn more about the power of individual action, visit to watch our recent Coffee & Climate where we were joined by two waste reduction powerhouses, UMaine’s Cindy Eisenhower and GoGo Refill’s Laura Marston.

Sign up for Plastic Free July

No, it’s not too late. Reach out to to sign up. We will send out weekly emails sharing our plastic free progress and prompts to get you thinking about your plastic-free journey, as well as seeking input from you at the end of July about your experience and takeaways.

If you send us your story at the end, you will be included in a raffle for a gift card to some of your favorite local South Portland eateries. Let’s share our goals, successes, and (inevitable mishaps) together. In addition, be sure to stay up to date with us on Instagram @soposustainability.

Our Sustainable City is a recurring column in the Sentry intended to provide residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland. Follow the Sustainability Office on Instagram and Facebook @soposustainability.

Mia Ambroiggio is a Greater Portland Council of Governments Resilience Corps Fellow serving in the Sustainability Office. She can be reached at

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