Reflecting on 2018, a Year-End Review with Upcycle Santa Fe


The year has wound down to the very final day of 2018.  It’s New Years Eve!  As I sit and contemplate my evening party plans I’m more-so distracted by thoughts reflecting on Upcycle Santa Fe’s progress in 2018.  This year we placed more Ubuntu Blox Presses in the hands of motivated individuals than ever before, which led us to do a bit of travel, and share our knowledge with many different groups of people.  Heck, this year we were even on TV and the radio!  Sit with me… let us reminisce.

Jumping back to February, 2018, Upcycle Santa Fe was en route to Costa Rica!  Happenstance led us to a group of individuals who are collectively living in a permaculture paradise deep into the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.  The place is called Finca Morpho, and the Morphians welcomed Upcycle Santa Fe with a place to sleep and daily organic, fresh cooked meals for the price of an Ubuntu-Blox Press.

We scoured their farm and were able to source all of the needed materials for the Press.  This was the first time we built a Press from 100% reclaimed materials!  This was a challenge for us, and we’re proud to have prevailed.  This paradise-based intentional community is now on a zero plastic waste agenda, and being located in the second most bio-diverse place on the planet, we think that’s pretty darn important.  You can visit this Ubuntu-Blox Press and the Morphians if you’re seeking a sustainable and meaningful tropical getaway.  They’ve got their annual Metamorphosis Gathering coming up soon, and it just may be the perfect thing you’re searching for.

Ubuntu-Blox buildout demonstration with the Finca Morpho community

Aw, gee whiz… thinking back on the day we left Finca Morpho, project complete, I was so overjoyed I cried.  Working in the field of plastic waste, tears of joy aren’t as common as tears of sadness.  I’ll forever be grateful to the love of trash regeneration the Morphians have, and am so happy to have met such a unique team of friends.

Okay, drying my eyes, now lets move on to the second project Upcycle took on in 2018, marathon races!  Did we run a marathon for plastic waste awareness?  Haha!  No way!  But we did help a marathon race company, Vacation Races, take on a zero plastic waste agenda; a different kind of marathon in its own right.

In April of 2018, Upcycle packed up and hit the road for Zion National Park, the hosting grounds for a weekend Ragnar Relay Race, and home of the first ever zero plastic waste marathon event in the United States.  Upcycle Santa Fe traveled deep into the glorious Utah desert to deliver the custom ordered Ubuntu-Blox Press to Vacation Races, and trained their waste management team on how to use the Press for plastic waste generated at regular marathon events.


A single waste management team tackled the waste of nearly 5,000 marathon goers!  Needless to say, by the end of the weekend we were exhausted.  There was quite a bit of bottled water and sports drinks consumed by the marathon goers, and we were able to compress 25.5 Ubuntu-Blox, or 102 cubic feet of plastic waste.  That’s quite a bit of plastics saved from failed recycling centers and landfills.

The waste management team of Vacation Races has carried on for the remainder of 2018 compressing plastics into Ubuntu-Blox.  Recent talks with their team have us on the radar for 2019, assisting with an Ubuntu-Blox building project to resource all the collected and compressed plastics into a structure.  Stay tuned to hear more about that one!

Moving on down to November, 2018, Upcycle Santa Fe got Santa Fe-mous and were in the news!  A reporter with Albuquerque based KRQE News 13 got wind of the work we do here at Upcycle, and by that evening we were on the local news.  Our social media accounts have soared as many New Mexicans have reached out to us since the news broadcast aired.  Many had questions about what to do with their non-recyclable plastics, the recycling crisis in New Mexico, and how to make Ecobricks.  To witness fellow New Mexicans have such an interest and passion for plastic waste and how to sustainably handle it has been humbling and motivating.  We feel we have a strong team of locals supporting our work, and not too much is better than that!  We love you, New Mexico.  If you haven’t seen us on the news yet, or already have and want to watch it again, here ya go!


One of the ongoing projects of Upcycle Santa Fe is research.  Being innovators in upcycling plastic waste into building materials, we are constantly faced with unanswered questions.  Research is an ongoing solution to ensure the development of sustainable products going into the future.  And well, formal research just ain’t cheap!  In 2017 we fundraised to afford necessary research on upcycled plastic waste insulation emissions.  We passed that test by answering the question as to whether or not plastics off-gas when used as insulation.  (The answer was no, they don’t off-gas, in case you didn’t read about that totally awesome research project.) In 2018 we’re fundraising again, and we would love your help.

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2018 brought on more research, and this time in one of the most important factors we’ve yet tackled, building codes! At this time, Ecobricks and Ubuntu-Blox are not up to building code for full-size structures in the U.S. because they lack some important research: R-Value and Flame Spread tests.  Both tests are required by law in getting new materials approved by building advisory boards, and eventually into official building codes.  So, whatdoyaknow, Upcycle is taking on this challenge!  Why?  Because we believe the people of the U.S. have a big role to play when it comes to decreasing their carbon footprint based in plastic waste.  Americans are consuming single-use plastics at an alarming rate, and our solution to ship plastic waste overseas for recycling has proven to be a failure over and over again.  Especially this year, with China’s foreign plastic waste ban, and the ripple effect its had on the entire global recycling industry.  So, again, would you like to make a donation and help us out on this enormously big project we’re taking on?


Our last project of 2018 brought us back to sunny Utah.  Just a couple weeks ago, in mid-December, we spent eight days in Moab building an Ubuntu-Blox Press for a handful of interested non-profits who seek to clean up Moab’s piling plastic waste, as the community is seeing big failings from their local recycling facility.

Upcycle Santa Fe was the grant recipient, alongside Moab-based Resiliency Hub, of the 2018 Make A Difference Grant from WabiSabi Moab, a thrift store with a strong interest in making a positive difference in their community.  Upcycle built an Ubuntu-Blox Press for the Moab non-profit Resiliency Hub, taught members of their community how to use it, and ultimately how to build with it.  (It was a whirlwind of a week!)  The final result was a pile of plastic waste transformed into an outdoor bench at Moab’s community radio station, KZMU.  Which reminds me, KZMU generously hosted us on a number of their news reports that week.  There were a couple of short podcasts made.  Have a listen…


Wow!  Okay, that wraps up the highlights of 2018 for Upcycle Santa Fe.  Every single one of these projects has opened doors for future projects, which means we’re in for a very exciting 2019.  Thank you so much for believing in our grassroots work, and supporting Upcycle as we take this important work to the next level.  None of this would be possible without the generous support of friends, family, and complete strangers we meet along the way.  You know who you are, and I thank you.  For the rest of you we’re soon to meet in the coming New Year, I look forward to our shared time together, and am already grateful for you.  Together we’ll clean up this plastic polluted planet one little bit at a time.  Happy New Year, world!


There’s Another Research Project Happening, and Upcycle Santa Fe Needs Your Help


Taking on global plastic pollution is tough.  Challenging folks to awaken to their single-use plastic habits is no easy task, either.  Developing an innovative product which could save thousands of pounds of non-recyclable plastic waste from landfills and oceans, to be utilized by communities large and small, rich or poor, across the nation… now that is the toughest task, yet.

We are a company of many facets, and our mission is grand.  We’ve got a big idea and have been plotting its success for years.  Working with post-consumer plastic waste as building insulation has been tedious.  Many trial and errors with consultations and plannings have led us to take the next crucial steps forward.  Industry standards require some basic tests in order for newly-developed insulation materials to pass building codes.  This is what we seek to document in our work with Ubuntu-Blox an Ecobricks.  Two research-based tests must be fulfilled.  The first, an R-Value test, or insulation quality.  How does the plastic waste insulation keep houses warm in the cold, and cool in the hot?  The second is a Flame Spread test.  In the unfortunate case of a fire, how quickly do plastic waste insulation products burn?

Another difficult task of taking on global plastic pollution and challenging single-use plastic habits is asking for help, specifically financial help.  We’ve located a facility to perform the required tests, and we’ve received a quote for the needed research.  The R-Value and Flame Spread tests together are $7,000, and our grassroots startup simply doesn’t have the needed funds.  We’re asking for your help because we really believe we have a solution to non-recyclable plastic waste!  Did you know Ecobricks and Ubuntu-Blox have already passed some very impressive tests?  Last year, both passed an emissions test conducted by Los Alamos National Laboratory, showing plastics as insulation do not off-gas. (Scroll down to blog post “The Lab Results Are In… Get Excited” from January 2017)  Also, Ubuntu-Blox were originally designed to withstand serious seismic activity, and an Ubuntu-Blox structure passed an 8.0 earthquake test!

Like most grand, innovative ideas turned into reality we must start with community support and investment.  At this time, Upcycle Santa Fe is seeking support from you!  Yes, YOU, our environmentally conscious, Green-living friend.  You’ve already supported our work by stuffing Ecobricks and cutting back on the single-use plastics.  Now, will you donate to our Go Fund Me campaign and help us reach our goal of researching innovative plastic waste solutions?  Perhaps you may be interested in long-term, large scale investments in our company, as well.  We are pleased to announce now is the time to make that happen.  Should you be interested in investment opportunities we invite you to email our team at

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You can make a donation at

Our work was recently recognized and featured by Albuquerque-based KRQE News.  We think their journalists did a great job accurately capturing the work Upcycle Santa Fe has been focusing on.  You can watch the newscast in the video below.

Here at Upcycle Santa Fe, our mission goes beyond awareness to single-use plastics and pollution.  It goes beyond teaching the youth sustainable practices to carry with them throughout life.  Beyond refusing a straw and bringing reusable bags to the grocery store.  With all of these conscious practices and community supporting us, Upcycle Santa Fe moves along a timeline to seriously impact global plastic pollution.  You’ve helped us make it this far, and together we can have a big impact on this plastic problem.




Recycle the Recycling Industry

Written by Hallie Brennan, Upcycle Santa Fe | September, 2018

The majority of United States based recycling firms still think it’s a good idea to ship our plastic waste overseas.  China banned foreign plastic waste imports in January of this year.  A short six months later Thailand did the exact same thing.  Vietnam is no longer issuing permits for foreign plastic waste imports. Taiwan is drafting regulations to restrict imports, as well.  What is going on, here?  Why don’t foreign countries want to accept our plastic waste?  Maybe it has something to do with toxic pollution, contaminated water streams, and environmental disaster.  Maybe this is why we don’t even accept our own plastic waste…

The U.S. sent 70 million pounds of plastic waste to Thailand, alone, in just three months!  Here’s a quote from The Nation, a Thai news outlet, “I have no doubt that the recycling of plastic waste and used electronic parts are profitable businesses at the moment.  Some business operators may make a lot of profit from the recycling industry, but what will the country gain from their prosperity when our environment becomes polluted and the people suffer?”  This very rational quote comes from the Natural Resources and Environment Minister, General Surasak Kanchanara.  Finally!  Someone is talking sense!

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Photo: Greenpeace International.  A neighborhood in Thailand suffering from plastic pollution.

Solutions for recycling post-consumer plastic waste generated in the United States need to happen in the United States.  There is a business model which ships these plastics overseas, as foreign markets purchase scrap plastic from U.S. suppliers, and then use the recycled plastic to affordably manufacture goods.  Those goods are often shipped right back over to the U.S.  How many election cycles have you been through witnessing the working class people of the U.S. demand jobs be brought back to the U.S., and stop being sent overseas?  How often have you heard workers in the U.S. demand more manufacturing jobs, and celebrate the factory goods, manufacturing culture that was once part of the American Dream?  If we recycle our own post-consumer plastic waste in our country, this affordable recycled plastic could then be supplied to domestic manufacturers, possibly rekindling the manufacturing industry once again.


Additionally, the U.S. has some of the strictest regulations on EPA approved manufacturing, especially when compared to other countries.  Rather than sending plastic waste to foreign countries where regulations can be less strict, creating potential environmental disasters, we keep the plastic waste in our own country where we’ll work to process plastics as environmentally friendly as possible.  Many of our nation’s industries get a little Greener as the years go by.  We have what it takes to do the right thing.

We live in a world where the manufacturing of goods isn’t going to cease to exist.  That same world generates a lot of single-use plastics which need responsible handling.  With open minds, lets keep the revenue generated from the recycling industry 100% domestic.  Lets take responsibility for our own generated waste, and promote domestic jobs through the manufacturing industry.  Lets recycle an outdated recycling industry.


So You Want An Ecobrick Collection Point In Your City?

Written by Hallie Brennan, Upcycle Santa Fe | June 2018

There’s a hand made wooden box painted different shades of turquoise at 917 Don Juan Street.  It’s the collection point for Ecobrickers of Santa Fe and northern New Mexico.  We are a small two-person team, Upcycle Santa Fe, and we’ve been collecting Ecobricks from the Santa Fe community for years.  A popular question we receive from all sorts of acquaintances regards Ecobrick collection points beyond the one here at the Upcycle Santa Fe office.  We’ve been asked to set up collection points throughout our city, in all other 49 capitol cities throughout the US, and all throughout the northern parts of our home state of New Mexico.  Our team of two is thrilled by the enthusiasm, but we’ve got our hands pretty full supporting and operating our already existing projects.  So… I think it’s well beyond time to talk to you, yes YOU, you Ecobricking enthusiast, about starting an Ecobrick collection point in your city or town.  I double dog dare you to take this seriously!

First things first, engage your community.  Talk to people about Ecobricks.  Teach them how to make a prim and proper brick, and excite them for all the plastics they’re keeping out of their local landfill and water systems.  Most people don’t realize soft plastics – like plastic bags, cheese wrappers, or an energy bar wrapper – aren’t recyclable by industry standards.  The guilt of tossing single use soft plastics into the trash, or the deceiving recycle bin, after learning to Ecobrick is almost unbearable.  I speak from my own experience.  Convincing even just a couple people of the importance and environmental impact of stuffing Ecobricks will come easy for you.  Then those people tell a couple people, and a couple more people tell a couple more people, and next thing you know you really need an Ecobrick collection point.  Now is when your creativity and passion carry you.

The Upcycle Santa Fe Ecobrick drop-off collection box.

Create your collection point. It can be tricky placing a collection point on public property. This is why we created our collection point in front of our own home office address.  We live in the desert, so our collection point is primarily wind and sun proof.  You don’t want your Ecobricks blowing away, and you absolutely need to keep them out of the sun. Research of Ecobrick built structures has proven that photodegradation is the leading cause of deterioration of Ecobricks.  The sun will bake the plastic bottle; the sun will weaken it so much eventually the plastic bottle cracks, and the soft plastics inside the bottle are unfortunately set free.  This will happen a lot quicker than you’d expect. When it comes to the rain, waterproofing your collection point isn’t seriously necessary because people should be placing lid-sealed-tight Ecobricks into the bin. If they’re rained on, it won’t ruin a properly stuffed and sealed Ecobrick.

Create a storage space. You should accept the challenge up front that the collected Ecobricks will begin to pile up. It can be a little overwhelming, but remember how each and every brick is your community’s effort to keep plastics out of the landfill and water systems, and then you’ll be so stoked when the Ecobricks are piling up.  Storage space needs to be sun-proof, most importantly.  Again, don’t let your Ecobricks blow away, and a little rain won’t bother them.  Perhaps you have space in your garage, or a shed out back you aren’t properly using?  For us, we built an outdoor storage area comprised of large wooden bins which are covered on top with corrugated metal. Your community Ecobricks will continue to pile up until you are able to plan a building project with them. This will determine the size of the storage space you’ll need, depending on how quickly you’re able to turn over the collected bricks into a local building project.

Create building projects. There are building code restrictions when using Ecobricks in the United States.  Only structures under 120 square feet are allowed – for now. (We’re working on this part…) This means your options for building projects will be small, but that’s alright! We’ve built a number of outdoor benches, garden beds, dog houses, and courtyard walls with the Ecobricks we’ve collected.  The technique for building with Ecobricks is pretty standard, and informative tutorials can be found all over the internet. Did you know there are Ecobrick structures in Guatemala, Indonesia, South Africa, Costa Rica, the Philippines, and beyond?!  The information on building is out there, trust me. Contact us here at Upcycle Santa Fe anytime you have questions in our website’s About tab. You have a support system, friend!


As far as we know, Upcycle Santa Fe operates the one and only Ecobrick collection point in the entire United States.  That’s kind of cool, but no, not really cool at all. What would be way more cool and interesting is a network of Ecobrick collection points scattered throughout the nation. “What difference will one collection point really make?”, said an entire nation. The United States is one of the leading producers of plastic waste.  It’s time for us to step up to the plate and creatively take on some responsibility for the “waste” we generate.  By starting an Ecobrick collection point and building projects in your own city or town, you are tapping into a global network of outside-the-box thinkers and environmentally conscious peoples.  The connections you will make and opportunities that will arise will not disappoint!  So again, I double dog dare you to take this seriously.

Two Santa Fe Women Who Don’t Suck

Written by Hallie Brennan, Upcycle Santa Fe | May 2018

It always seems impossible until its done.  Some wise words from Nelson Mandela encouraging the underdog to go ahead and take on Goliath.  Creating positive social change often feels like taking on Goliath.  Who are we kidding… creating positive social change always feels like taking on Goliath.  You know what they say, all it takes is one person to make a change.  Well it just so happens that Spring of 2018 two Santa Fe women have individually challenged Goliath to a dual.  What is the challenge?  Single-use plastic straws.  Their environmental campaigns, independent of themselves, are burning the candle at both ends.  Amber Morningstar Byars and Emma Cohen started small and soon gathered mass attention.  Is the red carpet ready?  Everyone loves a good underdog story.

Amber Morningstar Byars is about to graduate from IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts) with a BA in Indigenous Liberal Studies and an AFA in Studio Arts.  As president of ILSSO (Indigenous Liberal Studies Student Organization) not only is she on an admirable path to Law School, but she has been actively organizing a number of community work efforts for years.  Inspired by the Strawless in Seattle movement, organized by the nonprofit Lonely Whale, Amber declared her senior project the Strawless Santa Fe campaign.  If you’ve earned a degree or certificate specializing in a specific field of work, you’re all too familiar with requirements and projects that must be fulfilled in order to complete the coursework.  What is beautiful and inspiring about this senior project is Amber’s choice to have an impact with lasting affects on both the Santa Fe community and the overall health of the global environment.  This queen is passionately going well beyond her degree requirements.

Amber Morningstar Byars; strawless, of course!

Amber has made her Strawless agenda very clear to the city of Santa Fe, and she’s approached this campaign with a sustainable and inclusive plan.  She has been hard at work recruiting Santa Fe restaurant owners to sign a pledge which will end their single-use plastic straw shenanigans by the end of 2018.  The choice as to whether the restaurant bans straws altogether, or switches to an eco-friendly option, is up to the restaurant.  The restaurant industry is arguably the world’s leading example of unnecessary straw use.  Regardless of your drink order, or whether you prefer a straw to consume it or not, a straw is going to show up in your drink.  You may think, “Well just ask for ‘no straw’, whatever, no big deal.”  Go ahead, my friend.  Make that request and let me know how many times your server habitually serves your drink with a straw, anyway.  This isn’t an issue that speaks to servers in the restaurant industry, but rather an issue that speaks to the bad habits from society has as a whole.  The kind of bad habits we don’t really think about until sea turtles have plastic straws lodged in their nostrils, and community leaders begin to rally against the unnecessary waste.  Straws suck, literally.

Next on Amber’s agenda is to engage with the disabled community which depend on the use of straws.  Differing from the world of restaurants where plastic straws are unnecessarily flying all over the darn place, people within the disabled community have a functional purpose and need for straws.  Whatever policy changes occur from Strawless Santa Fe, it is a priority the disabled community will not be negatively affected.

Photo courtesy Strawless Santa Fe

Lastly, the agenda includes one of America’s most favorite ways of getting politically active, a petition.  The goal to acquire 1,000 signatures has been set.  The petition asks Santa Fe bars and restaurants to all-in-all stop offering plastic straws to their patrons, and switch to an eco-friendly option, instead.  There are staggering statistics of how many plastic straws we put into the waste stream.  In the U.S., alone, 500,000,000 single-use plastic straws are used every single day.  That’s enough straws to wrap around the Earth 2.5 times.  And please spare us with the, “…but I recycle my straw.”  Tossing straws into your curbside recycle bin is not an actual solution because the low density polyethylene you’re sucking your beverage through is not recyclable.  Learning about the environmental impact of single-use plastic straw waste is like a crash you can’t look away from.  The information can’t be unlearned once images of suffering sea life float in your memory.  Suddenly that latte doesn’t taste so good being sipped through that straw…

Photo courtesy Strawless Santa Fe

Feeling motivated?  Sign Amber’s petition, here.

Perhaps by now you’re feeling inspired to ditch the straw, but love sipping those frozen margaritas on the weekend?  Our second queen in action has a solution for you.  Emma Cohen grew up in Santa Fe and holds a Masters in Environmental Management from Harvard.  She’s been one of those ‘straw people’ for a while.  For years Emma has worked to end plastic waste in our oceans by mingling with organizations like Save the Mermaids, and she previously worked for LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) as a Pollution Prevention specialist.  In casual moments she’d order friends’ drinks with no straws, regularly.  After years of raising awareness to plastic pollution, serendipity connected Emma to a person by the name of Miles Pepper.  This man shared the belief that straws suck, and something needed to be done to stop the unnecessary waste stream.  As Emma described their meeting, “Straw people unite!”  Together, the two of them have created FinalStraw, and are encouraging the world to Suck Responsibly.  Yes, it’s a reusable straw, but there is nothing basic about this product.  Trust me, you’ve totally never seen anything like this, before.

When asked what sparked her revolution against single-use straws, Emma detailed a 2010 trip to Thailand where she strolled the country’s renowned beaches and picked up handfuls of plastic straws that had washed up on the shore.  This became a daily routine, because every single morning the tide would wash ashore more and more plastic straws.  At that moment, Emma’s agenda was born.


Emma Cohen, FinalStraw

Emma and her business partner Miles launched a Kickstarter campaign for FinalStraw in mid-April of this year, and the response has been nothing short of amazing.  The success, so far, clearly proves people are beyond interested in an eco-friendly solution for straws.  Thousands of people have pre-ordered their FinalStraw via the Kickstarter campaign.  Should you choose to pre-order your own straw, you’ll receive bonus special early bird pricing… as though you needed more incentive to clean up the oceans.  (You’ve got until May 19th to get that pre-order in!)  How many straws will be spared from the oceans as people begin to use this fun, reusable solution?  Again, what seems like an impossible, super steep uphill battle is gaining traction.  The paradigm is shifting.

Want your own FinalStraw?  I don’t blame you!  Get one here.

The affects of this everyday, single-use item have really taken a toll on our planet’s ecosystems.  Have you ever thought about the work it would take to change the habits of billions of people on a global scale?  Seriously, just let your imagination sink into that idea for a few seconds.  It’s an overwhelming thought!  We live in a world where there is no shortage of social movements to get involved with, and there are many projects worldwide deserving of our attention.  It is easy to feel defeated because of this.  I asked Emma what advice she’d give to a person in this state, and she quickly summed up a plan of action, “Hone in to a specific part of your passion, and narrow the focus.  Start small, but make a big deal out of a small thing.”  This is the perspective Amber and Emma each have taken.  Driven from similar passions for a healthy and clean Mother Earth, they have created their own campaigns to battle single-use plastic straws.  Each of their projects is raising awareness, shifting the everyday habits of people and businesses, while having a lasting positive impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.  These women do not suck, so lets follow their lead.