Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy: Plan A and Plan B Papers

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    Does Community Air Monitoring Lead to Better Environmental Policy? Evaluating AB 617 in Richmond, California
    (2024-05-01) Hunt, Samantha
    Community air monitoring, publicly-operated low-cost air monitors to gather local, real-time pollution data, is one method to potentially improve air quality. Regulatory agencies are increasingly funding community monitoring to complement sparse networks of regulatory monitors. However, data from low-cost monitors often faces challenges about data quality, contributing to monitoring data seldom leading to policy change. If community air monitoring is truly an avenue for improving air quality rather than increasing awareness, I argue this data must drive regulatory change. In California, Assembly Bill (AB) 617 created a comprehensive program of public involvement in designing plans to install additional air monitors and subsequently reduce emissions. Here, I analyze key AB 617 documents from Richmond, California to trace whether new air monitoring data is linked to strategies to reduce emissions. I find most monitoring data is not used and rarely connected to regulatory change. I also classify the types of actions within Richmond’s emissions reduction plan, finding relatively few new policies that are enforceable and ready for near-term implementation. Since community monitoring data is largely unused, changes in environmental regulation may be more likely if new regulatory monitors are installed instead. Regulators should also make it clear to community members from the outset that low-cost monitoring data will not lead to new regulation at this point. An alternative, potentially more effective method to improving air quality may be using new monitoring data to pursue change through media advocacy and direct pressure on industry rather than going through state institutions.
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    Expanding Climate Mitigation in Healthcare: Investigating Top-Down Approaches to Greenhouse Gas Reduction in Minnesota Community Hospitals
    (2024-05-01) Sako, Kristin
    Healthcare exists to protect and promote human health, yet is a contributor to climate change. There is a need for this sector to begin addressing their environmental impact, though accountability measures must ensure that existing burdens in healthcare are not exacerbated. Currently, any environmental action in healthcare is done on a voluntary basis. Healthcare, especially patient-centered care, faces unique challenges that must be confronted in order for them to join the climate movement. One major barrier is a lack of broader policies and regulations that can incentivize or coerce healthcare into addressing their greenhouse gas emissions. For this paper, I interviewed multiple stakeholder groups in Minnesota hospitals and supporting organizations in healthcare sustainability to investigate how hospitals would respond to greenhouse gas emission tracking and reporting requirements. In doing so, I analyze how the existing barriers, voluntary programs, and incentives have impacted the way hospitals engage in climate mitigation. The general lack of guidance and incentives have made it difficult for hospitals to engage in change management, which is necessary for climate action to be integrated into hospitals. Consequently, health systems and hospitals that have begun change management are much more likely to meet requirements on greenhouse gas emission reporting than those that have not yet started. I recommend multiple strategies and actions hospitals and external support organizations can take to help Minnesota hospitals begin change management and collectively become environmental stewards.
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    Incorporating Renewable Energy Technology into the Minnesota Weatherization Assistance Program: Reducing Energy Burden Among Low-Income Households
    (2024-05-01) Carrera, Alexa
    Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations within the Minnesota Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) are not a new effort. In fact, this effort first began as a pilot program in 2020 and has been growing ever since. In the midst of the global energy transition, the Minnesota WAP stands as a pioneering force by aiming to make renewable energy technologies accessible to low-income households across the state. Over the past three years, the initiative has demonstrated a remarkable impact, yielding greater energy savings compared to traditional weatherization measures. Not only does this state-wide effort have the potential to alleviate energy burden among low-income households, but it also allows for increasing renewable energy accessibility for communities that have been traditionally underserved. As the momentum behind this innovative weatherization measure continues to build, there arises a need for a comprehensive understanding of the current challenges and opportunities for continued implementation of solar PV into Minnesota WAP. Through a series of twenty-one stakeholder interviews ranging from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, local WAP service providers, non-profits, state agencies, local government, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the private sector, this paper aims to examine the current landscape of renewable energy technology within WAP by understanding the challenges and opportunities associated with the effort and provide recommendations to relevant stakeholders on how to make this effort more efficient and seamless. Furthermore, this paper can help other WAP Grantees who are considering incorporating solar PV as a new weatherization measure.
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    Looking Beyond Demand Response: Barriers and Opportunities to Deploying Virtual Power Plants among Rural Electric Cooperatives in the United States
    (2024-05-16) Datta, Mayukh K.
    Rural electric cooperatives (co-ops) find themselves in a unique position regarding deploying virtual power plants. Co-ops, which are consumer-owned utilities, have a vast history of deploying controllable demand-side management technologies that can fit perfectly into a VPP framework, with almost a gigawatt of demand-side management capacity across four generation and transmission cooperatives in Minnesota (G. Chan et al. 2019; Matthew Grimley and Chan 2023). This more than forty-year-long experience deploying controllable resources and their nonprofit, consumer-owned structure makes rural electric cooperatives perfectly positioned to deploy virtual power plants. However, several challenges, such as high upfront costs and uncertainties around market rules, hinder VPP deployment for rural co-ops. Furthermore, the fact that most co-ops comprise a complex network of distribution cooperatives that make up larger generation and transmission (G&T) cooperatives also complicates how VPPs can be deployed by rural coops.
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    Plastics & Climate: Analysis of Regulatory Capture through Voluntary Plastic Waste Management Programs
    (2020) Reinert, Jacob
    International regulations to limit the impacts of climate change are increasingly targeting reduced fossil fuel consumption. This path presents a grave threat to oil and gas firms, however, as they face a potential collapse of their markets. To maintain long-term viability, profitability, and influence, fossil fuel manufacturers have signaled a business model pivot. Diverting their product pipelines into the petrochemical market, producers can tap into the growing demand for plastics. A range of socioeconomic factors contribute to increasing plastic consumption. While plastic demand has slowed in the United States and other developed countries, the opposite is true in developing and transition economies, driven by increasing incomes and changes in consumption patterns. This booming sector meanwhile contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, and continued plastic production and consumption threatens to derail climate change mitigation policies. To match shifting demand patterns, powerful international petrochemical companies are looking to other countries to grow their product markets.2 If current trends continue, plastic will make up 20% of global oil consumption by 2050. At the same time, there is growing public awareness of plastic pollution and the inability of many countries to handle the resulting waste. As public discourse around plastic waste evolves, political actors have shown increasing willingness to address plastic pollution, including banning certain materials, increasing recycling, and cleaning up ocean plastic.4 For oil and petrochemical companies attempting to navigate the climate problem by pivoting to plastic, there is a clear incentive to resist new restrictions on plastic manufacturing. Limiting plastic consumption decreases the need for new materials, thus removing their intended profit centers. Thus, activities to develop international plastic markets are crucial to firms’ long-term profitability as demand for carbon-based fuels diminishes. Successful waste management initiatives have helped address some aspects of the plastic pollution problem, but increasing production threatens to overwhelm these systems. Regulators are hungry for solutions, and actors that organize around solutions have opportunities to shape future policy development. Incumbent fossil fuel interests facing the threat of market collapse enjoy relatively low barriers to cooperation, presenting an opportunity for influence. With public discourse focused on plastic pollution, petrochemical firms can improve their public image through involvement in solutions. While there are costs associated with this path, losing product markets is a much greater threat. Thus, industry incentives prioritize participation in voluntary environmental programs.
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    Economic Overview of fisheries in the Asia-Pacific Region
    (2021-11) Anand, Sarayu Krishnan
    Many people depend on fish as a source of protein making fishery resilience an integral part of food security. World fisheries struggle to meet current global demand as a result of improper management of this resource in the past. This poor management has led to exploitation of stocks, biodiversity loss and habitat loss calling for urgent action to be taken. Over half of the world produce is harvested from a single region, the Asia pacific region. This paper tries to breakdown the complexities of the issues face in the region and identify areas of policy influence to ameliorate the Asia pacific fisheries. This paper looks into the different factors that influence the fisheries in the Asia Pacific region and the nature of these influences and affects.
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    Barriers to Securing Human Rights for Climate Refugees: Examining the Relationship Between Discourse, Deservingness, and Developmen
    (2022-05) Boytim, Brenna
    Projections on climate migration show that under business-as-usual operations, hundreds of millions could internally migrate. The vast majority of these climate refugees will come from majority nations with limited adaptive capacity. Recent years have seen greater turns toward securitization against refugees accompanied by heightened nationalism and xenophobia. This phenomena rests on a history of maltreatment and negative rhetoric that have shaped the common imagination surrounding refugees. This paper seeks to examine how the relationship between discourse and deservingness impact the ability to secure human rights for climate refugees by drawing on literature of social psychology and critical discourse analysis. Further, this paper will examine how this relationship leads to the favored, proposed solution of development to aid climate refugees, exploring how this maintains dominant world systems with literature relating to fundamental cause theory.
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    Climate-Smart Practice Adoption and Carbon Markets in Minnesota
    (2022-05) Hansen-Connell, Maddie; Murphey, Kathleen; Bui, Jacqueline Oakes; Schmaltz, Megan; Williams, Ian
    Climate change is a major concern globally and locally, and agriculture can help mitigate emissions through climate-smart practices. To capitalize on this carbon sequestration opportunity, agricultural carbon markets are emerging in Minnesota and elsewhere as a way to compensate farmers for their role in reducing emissions and carbon sequestration. However, there are barriers and concerns with carbon markets and adopting climate-smart practices. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) was interested in investigating the gaps in current carbon market payment systems, policy mechanisms or other solutions, and the most appropriate role for MDA to play in increasing climate-smart practice adoption. To explore these questions, our research team conducted a background literature review with a stakeholder analysis and completed 26 key informant interviews with farmers and representatives from government, education, business, and others.
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    Exploring Policy Recommendations for Promoting Climate Resilient Watersheds
    (2022-05) Cullen, Sean; Dunn, Hannah; Fribley, Noah; Kirtz, Kayla; Lydon, Madeline K.
    This report was prepared for the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) by students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The goal of this report is to convey the results of our investigation of the extent to which currently published Comprehensive Watershed Management Plans (CWMPs) are addressing and/or incorporating climate resilience strategies, to support BWSR’s ultimate goal of creating more resilient watersheds throughout Minnesota, and to provide recommendations for encouraging increased adoption of climate resilience strategies. These recommendations are: (1) Do Not Require Climate Resilience; (2) Shift from Prioritization Framework to Risk Framework; (3) Improve Consultant Relationships ; (4) Leverage Regional BWSR Staff Involved in 1W1P; (5) Conduct a Climate and Equity Audit; (6) Increase Funding; (7) Provide Technical Resources; (8) Promote Climate Resilience Outside of BWSR; (9) Improve Public Engagement. We arrived at these recommendations after conducting an analysis of the 27 available CWMPs; a survey of 225 planning partners; and interviews with four consultants, one climate scientist, and BWSR staff.
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    Effective Environmental Nonprofit Outreach & Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
    (2022-05) Husein, Samira; Johnson, Lily; Thees, Barb
    We collaborated with the local environmental non-profit MN350 over the course of a five month period to help them improve their organizational effectiveness. The goal of this project was to gather information from the literature as well as from staff and key volunteers within MN350 as a means of identifying opportunities to improve the functionality of the organization as a whole to more effectively engage a multiracial, statewide base of Minnesotans in the climate justice movement. We conducted a literature review to develop a foundation for our analysis, identifying the key areas from which to assess organizational effectiveness. Volunteer engagement and retention, effective environmental engagement and outreach strategies, as well as internal nonprofit communications strategies were identified by the graduate student team as crucial elements to address in the literature review. We found that the four key volunteer engagement strategies that lead to greater retention are volunteers’ ability to identify with the organization’s values, sense of community, perception of autonomy, and perception of competence. We also found that the literature highlighted the importance of knowledge sharing in nonprofit settings as a vehicle for innovation, problem-solving and enhancing organizational effectiveness. Knowledge sharing within an organization can occur via formal methods such as data management systems, digital communications, meetings, or informal methods such as conversations between staff members.
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    Minnesota Public Utility Commission Making Public Data Accessible
    (2022-05) Krueger, Sarah; Lupton, Andrew; Teklinski, Mark; Williamson, Jennifer
    This report thoroughly scrutinizes the current online capabilities of the Minnesota PUC - specifically regarding online accessibility. Terminology such as “accessibility,” “data-user,” and “usability” are defined without jargon. Much of the project’s timeline was spent on background research of the PUC’s role as a data-collector and a data-repository. Research of other state utility commissions and similar public institutions in Minnesota (i.e. Minnesota Department of Health) were helpful in the creation of comparison-based recommendations. Functionality of the PUC was graded in comparison to Wisconsin, Arizona, and Washington’s utility commissions. The corresponding data-visualization illustrates strengths and weaknesses of the MN PUC relative to other state agencies.Our findings indicate that the PUC’s online capabilities are currently satisfactory in many aspects, such as streamlined eDockets set-ups for data retrieval. PUC website and eDockets users currently are composed of experienced users who can quickly navigate the platform after an initial “learning period.” However, the online platform still has many opportunities to grow the system into a space that is friendly to non-experienced users. Our recommendations have been compiled into a list that can be itemized by budget.
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    Hennepin County: Climate and Resilience Department Creating a Community-Driven Climate Action Matrix
    (2022-05) Olson, Bethany K.; Bolen, Cade; Her, Chandra; Marton, Laszlo; Harsch, Trey
    Hennepin County’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) focuses primarily on reducing disparities in vulnerable populations while pursuing ambitious climate action goals. The County seeks to foster a supportive partnership with community-driven projects from local organizations to meet climate action and resilience goals through community engagement and outreach. In collaboration with the University of Minnesota, Hennepin University Partnership (HUP), and Hennepin County’s Climate and Resilience Department, our project’s objectives are to provide Hennepin County with an inventory matrix of local community-driven projects within the County. Our results provide Hennepin County opportunities to engage with local community-driven partners committed to climate action and resilience through projects they are passionate about.
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    Strategies for Proactive Engagement: Expanding PACE Program Utilization by Women and Minority Business Enterprises in Minnesota
    (2022-05) Ackerman, Dillon; Anderson, Josh; Barry, Eric; Gray, Lauren; Hestbech, Emily
    The St. Paul Port Authority (SPPA) is a national leader in administering financing for clean energy and energy efficiency projects through MinnPACE, the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. Since 2021, the SPPA has completed over 355 MinnPACE projects worth over $225 million. Going forward they identified an opportunity to pursue a more equitable program by advancing additional projects with women and minority-owned business enterprises (WMBEs). This report represents the culmination of work for a capstone project conducted by five graduate students at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The capstone team was tasked with helping the SPPA target their MinnPACE program to WBMEs. To identify the challenges and opportunities of expanding MinnPACE to include more projects with WMBEs, the capstone team conducted background research, a demographic analysis, and interviews with businesses, project participants, and additional stakeholders in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. After conducting our stakeholder and WMBE interviews, we arrived at four high-level recommendations for SPPA: 1) inrease awareness of the MinnPACE program and build trust with WMBEs; 2) accommodate WMBEs with limited resources; 3) navigate property ownership challenges, common to WMBEs; and 4) expand their internal capacity. From these findings, our team developed a variety of action items for SPPA in order to address these challenges.
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    A Changing Climate on Minnesota’s North Shore: Identifying Values, Concerns, & Actions for the Protection & Restoration of Water
    (2019-12) Rutledge, Annamarie
    Community resilience along Minnesota’s North Shore depends upon freshwater ecosystems and the services they provide. Climate change threatens many ecosystem benefits and there is uncertainty regarding how water resources will be affected by a changing climate. By conducting a community design charrette on the North Shore, we identified values, concerns, and actions for water resources through three activities: a pre-survey, Q sort, and collage exercise. The collage exercise brought in human-inspired ideas such as fragility and the North Shore as an identify, a home, and place of work. Based on the results of the Q sort, the study group resonated with the biospheric typology the most, followed by altruistic. The Q sort also generated three narratives that assist in understanding opinion clusters: protection realist, cultural preservationist, and provisioning utilitarian. Consensus statements from the Q sort included natural systems and processes to be sustained and habitat for native fish and wildlife to survive. Out of four water program funding areas, safe drinking water and healthy fish and wildlife populations were identified as top priorities. These findings provide insight into the perspectives of North Shore stakeholders and can be used to inform action and investments in water resources and build productive, collaborative relationships.
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    The Persistence of Residential Energy Insecurity in Manufactured Housing of Minnesota: A Grounded Theory Study of the Social, Policy, and Structural Dimensions
    (2016-05-11) Matter, Kathleen J
    In the United States, residents of manufactured homes built before 2000 have, on average, an energy burden range that is double that of residents for all other housing types built before 2000 (7.15% - 8.94% compared to 4.00% - 4.44%, respectively) (“2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey Microdata,” 2013). This disproportionately high average energy burden, in combination with a higher average energy expenditure and consumption per square foot, represent disparities in energy equity for low-income Americans. Given that household energy is a necessity, these disparities place manufactured home residents at a greater risk of being unable to affordably and efficiently heat, cool, and power their home, which is part of a phenomenon referred to as Residential Energy Insecurity. Direct and indirect strains stemming from this have severe health consequences like choosing between heating a home or buying food, a concept referred to as “heat or eat” (Hernández, Aratani, & Jiang, 2014; Brunner et al., 2012; Harrison & Popke, 2011). For more than three decades, two federal programs (the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program) have addressed these dimensions of energy insecurity, yet the disparity in energy burdens persists.
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    Behind-the-Meter Battery Energy Storage in Minnesota Assessment of Value, Challenges, and Policy Opportunities
    (2019-05) Venning, Alexander
    The conversion and storage of electrical energy as mechanical or electrochemical potential is often said to be a game-changing technology when it comes to the modernization of the world’s electric grids. While this may be true in some ways, energy storage has always been the linchpin of grid reliability. However, modern technology is changing the way we are able to harness energy storage to the benefit of the grid, the climate, and energy consumers of all types. In the early 20th century, as power lines first connected homes and businesses to electricity, the grid was designed for one-way flow of electrons. There was a clearly delineated path, wherein electricity was generated in power plants (typically coal, biomass, or hydroelectric), transferred through transmission lines and distribution networks, and ultimately consumed by residential, commercial, and industrial customers. In this way, the grid was designed to move electricity through space from producer to consumer.
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    The Green Neighbor Challenge: An Effort Towards Collective Climate Action
    (2019-06-17) Butts, Andrew
    This paper describes a yearlong effort to bring to life a web-based tool to assist any US utility customer in finding and signing up for renewable electricity through either green pricing programs or green competitive suppliers. Further, it describes efforts to design a complementary social media campaign that publicly celebrates the private choice of users to subscribe to green electricity. Together, the integrated tool and campaign are referred to as the Green Neighbor Challenge. Quantitative and qualitative research informed an iterative, creative development process that remains ongoing. In partnership with dozens of organizations, we aim to double the current green pricing subscription rate of 2% to 4%, converting a million households and reframing the national climate conversation. With key challenges overcome and modest funding in tow, the Green Neighbor Challenge is expected to be operational by January, 2020. These efforts have sprouted from the belief that through action, we create hope; and through collective action, just and sustainable futures become possible. Will you join us?
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    Water Rate Affordability and the Impacts of Combined Sewer Overflow Systems
    (2019-07-25) Schnoebelen, Lauren
    The purpose of this research is to evaluate the links between water affordability and investments cities have made in developing combined sewer overflow systems. Customer affordability is a concern for residents as it affects household utility bills. Rates are also a concern for public water and wastewater utilities because it impacts how much revenue they receive within a given year. I analyzed three different high cost system indicators; the Environmental Protection Agency Residential Indicator, the Affordability Ratio, and the Minimum Wage Indicator. Two-sample t-tests were then run to identify if municipalities who have made investments in combined sewer overflow systems are more likely to be classified as high cost systems based on the three affordability indicators. I found that by using the alternative high cost Affordability Ratio and Minimum Wage indicators, six times as many cities were identified as having a high cost system when compared to those identified by the Residential Indicator. The two-sample t-tests for each indicator showed a significant correlation (p=0.05) between the presence of a combined sewer overflow and classification of a high-cost system. The information gained from this study helps to show that the current criteria for identifying high cost systems through the EPA have limitations. Bringing in more variables that address the concerns over low income households and looking at both annual and monthly water and wastewater bills can provide a more accurate picture on which cities quality as high cost systems.
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    Impacts of Scale on Food Waste Technologies An Analysis of Three Technology Options for the City of Minneapolis
    (2017-05) Gurke, Kate
    The city of Minneapolis has expressed interest in becoming a zero waste city. In order to do so the city will need to consider outlets for food waste. Consumer level food waste in the United States is contributing to a number of environmental issues on the global, regional, and local level. While reductions to this waste stream will help mitigate these effects, food waste will never be completely eliminated and there are a number of technologies that makes it a useful resource. This paper will describe three technology options (waste-to-energy, composting, and anaerobic digestion), stakeholders involved in waste management, and three case studies that have experience with these technologies and food waste to form policy implications for the city of Minneapolis. These three considerations will help contextualize some of the policy options that have been used already and how they could impact future decisions in food waste management. Minneapolis currently uses waste-to-energy and composting facilities for waste management. Waste-to-energy facilities can process all forms of waste, but food negatively impacts energy generation from incineration. Composting is better suited for food waste, but is not the only technology suitable for this waste stream. Anaerobic digestion is a technology that is able to process food waste, while also creating biogas that can be used for heating, electricity, and transportation, and is currently not used by Minneapolis. All three technologies are promoted differently at the national, state, and local scale making goal setting and policy making that impacts food waste a challenge for cities. Further the combination of public and private waste management programs complicate who should be investing in these technology options.
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    Implementing Circular Economy at Target Field
    (2018-05-12) Garbini, Grace; Kappler, Kelsey; Norgaard, Madeline; Garnaas-Halvorson, Peder; Phua, Pei Y
    The project idea emerged out of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition (SGC), a collaborative of over 30 Fortune 500 companies working toward a sustainable environment and economy. One of the members, Target Corporation, is particularly interested in creating a future where all packaging can be recycled (or composted). While Target Corporation is a part of a national coalition working on this issue, it was keen to improve package recycling here in Minnesota. Another SGC member, Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, was also excited about Target’s vision as a way to make circular economy a reality. The University’s connections with Minnesota’s professional baseball stadium operations management, Target Field, provided an opportunity to collaborate on a demonstration project. Target Field was an ideal partner because it was also interested in increasing its recycling rate of plastic packaging. After forming this partnership, Madeline Norgaard, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs took on this opportunity as a capstone project in order to explore options and create an action plan. The following paper describes this issue and a feasible recommendation for moving forward.