Beyond Plastics Announces Two Key New Hires

East Palestine Community Advocate Jess Conard Named First Appalachia Director, Nyah Estevez Joins as Community Organizer

For Immediate Release: September 6, 2023


Beyond Plastics, a nationwide project based at Bennington College, continues to expand with the recent addition of two new staff members. The organization has appointed Jess Conard — a highly effective advocate from East Palestine, Ohio — as its first-ever Appalachia director and Nyah Estevez as a New York City-based community organizer. 

“We are thrilled to have these two highly effective women join our staff and elevate our work with their unique backgrounds,” said Judith Enck, Beyond Plastics president, Bennington College faculty member, and former EPA regional administrator. “As the petrochemical industry ramps up the production of plastic, plastic pollution will only worsen — especially in environmental justice communities where this pollutant is produced, used, transported, and disposed of. Conard and Estevez offer invaluable expertise on plastic’s impacts and on strategies to effect policy change. We are especially excited to have a staff member on the ground in Appalachia, where the petrochemical industry is increasingly expanding its presence to the detriment of local communities.”

Conard is a licensed speech pathologist who quit her job and dove headfirst into grassroots advocacy after a train carrying vinyl chloride derailed in her East Palestine community in February. Vinyl chloride is part of the growing plastic pollution problem, with 99% of it used to make polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, plastic. The vinyl chloride found in five of the derailed train cars in East Palestine, Ohio, was purposefully burned, contaminating the area, reportedly sickening residents, and killing thousands of fish in local waterways. Conard has spent the past six months fighting for the health and safety of East Palestine and continues to do so while advocating for Beyond Plastics’ other campaigns in her new role. She’s been featured on national news outlets like CNN, Fox, and News Nation, championing medical safety and air-quality monitoring for her community.

"I feel very empowered by this opportunity to contribute to a positive pathway toward a plastic-free future,” Conard said. “Crisis has a way of bringing us all together, and it's important that the crisis in my hometown of East Palestine not go to waste. The persistent work of Beyond Plastics and others can help prevent this tragedy from happening again. I look forward to being a part of this dynamic team and representing Appalachia as we strive to protect communities like mine from plastic-related disasters.”

Estevez is a skilled environmental advocate and grassroots organizer hailing from New York City, where she’ll be assisting Beyond Plastics in its nationwide grassroots efforts. Estevez is a recent graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and quickly became an outspoken community advocate. Her passion for combating environmental injustice led to her work as a student leader with the New York Public Interest Research Group and on the Farmworker Law Project at the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York.  

“My passion for ending plastic pollution started by simply observing my neighborhood and realizing the communities I’ve been a part of my whole life have been disproportionately affected by the production of plastic,” Estevez said. “People who look like me are the ones most affected by plastic’s toxic life cycle, and I’m thrilled to be working with Beyond Plastics to pursue environmental justice and adequately address the issues polluters have for too long ignored.”

About Beyond Plastics

Launched in 2019, Beyond Plastics is a nationwide project that pairs the wisdom and experience of environmental policy experts with the energy and creativity of grassroots advocates to build a vibrant and effective movement to end plastic pollution and promote alternatives to plastics. Using deep policy and advocacy expertise, Beyond Plastics is building a well-informed, effective movement seeking to achieve the institutional, economic, and societal changes needed to save our planet and ourselves, from the negative health, climate, and environmental impacts for the production, usage, and disposal of plastics.


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