The Spin of Truth

Ocean Gyres

The sun comes up every morning. If it ever ceases to, we won’t know, we will not have survived that loss. Few concepts in our modern lives are quite so certain. Without a doubt, truth is in the service of an agenda. Data is used to support whatever perspective is desirable. Even the most diligent researcher or professor of higher learning comes into their role with some bias. It is human nature.

Recently, an article in Plastics News caught my attention – “Study: 100 times less plastic than expected polluting ocean surface”. I have long been aware that there are islands of refuse in the ocean. These are not islands as would be properly termed that. Rather, they are gyres, which is a term in oceanography for a ringlike system of ocean currents rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Five of these are said to have the bulk of the plastic, with the North Pacific “garbage patch, also described as the Pacific trash vortex” said to contain 33% of the total – due to its size and to its proximity to the sea coasts of East Asia, where one-third of the world’s coastal populations are located. For a novel experience – visit “A Journey to the The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” which follows the journey of a plastic bag from a California city to the ocean with it’s final destination of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”.

Journey into the  Pacific Garbage Patch

Journey into the
Pacific Garbage Patch

I believe that Plastics News seeks to provide quality journalism but it is a plastics professional’s trade journal and it is biased in favor of being supportive of that industry. So this article’s headline was based upon a scientific estimate of how much plastic would be found – before – a study conducted by universities in Australia, Saudi Arabia and Spain working together did find that plastic debris contaminating the ocean was widespread enough to be found in 88% of the over 3,000 water samples taken at 141 different locations.

It seems that the researchers found “an important gap in the size distribution of floating plastic debris as well as a global surface load of plastic well below that expected from production and input rates”. They have determined that an “unknown mechanism” is removing smaller particles at a faster rate than larger particles. The researchers were surprised that the amount of plastic on the surface was not proportionate to the rapid increase in plastic production during recent decades. They were surprised to find that “surface plastic concentration in fixed ocean regions show no significant increasing trend since the 1980s, despite an increase in production and disposal.”

As to theories regarding the effect, they did not believe that more was washing ashore but that “there could be mechanisms to accelerate the breakdown into smaller particles, it could be devoured by marine animals or attach to objects like barnacles, a process called biofouling”. The researchers do feel that “because plastic inputs into the ocean will probably continue, and even increase, resolving the ultimate pathways and fate of these debris is a matter of urgency”.

The headline certainly grabs the attention but the article does not truly relieve concerns about plastic particles concentrating in the ocean. In fact, not long after I read that article, another one that seems to perhaps state the circumstances a bit more strongly than the Plastics News reporting, was printed in the NY Times – “Choking the Oceans With Plastic”. The author, Charles J Moore, is a captain in the US merchant marine and the found of the Algalita Marine Research and Education Institute in Long Beach, CA.

A less favorable (to the industry) perspective, than the article in Plastics News, was found in a blog posted at Algalita Marine’s website – “Disappearing ocean plastics is nothing to celebrate”, citing the exact same research study source. That blog notes that “land-based sources are responsible for the lion’s share of plastic waste entering the oceans: littering, wind-blown trash escaping from trash cans and landfills, and storm drain runoff when the capacity of water treatment plants is exceeded”. I was already aware of the issue of “spherical plastic microbeads, no more than a half millimeter, that are manufactured into skin care products and designed to be washed down the drain but escape water treatment plants not equipped to capture them”. There have been movements to counter that usage (want to know more ? – see Information Resources at the bottom of this blog). One I had not thought of was plastic microfibers released due to laundering polyester fabrics. Our family does tend to choose 100% Cotton as much as possible (yes, I do read labels obsessively !!).


The Algalita blog, referencing the same study as Plastic News, notes that scientists theorize that “zooplankton-eating fish likely account for the loss in surface microplastics. The missing microplastics are the same size as zooplankton, thus easily mistaken for food. Furthermore, zooplankton eaters that live deep in the ocean rise to the surface at night to feed. This explanation is supported by fact that plastic debris found in the stomachs of the fish that live off zooplankton are the same size as the missing surface debris, and the same size plastics are also commonly found in the stomachs of larger fish that feed on the plankton eaters”. This is not actually reassuring news for those eating fish as a healthier food choice. I do recommended that those most interested read the entire Algalita blog (see Information Resources at the bottom of this blog).

Algalita also notes – “In recent decades, disturbing autopsy images have surfaced in larger creatures – like whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and seabirds – illustrating stomach/intestinal blockage or perforation from ingesting often recognizable plastic items such as plastic bags, fishing line and bottle caps.” – which brings me to my final note for this blog – after long efforts, mostly fended off by the industry which I have been following for some time in Plastics News, Calfornia finally managed to pass a bag ban (though not yet signed by the Governor into law). This would make it the first state level ban in the United States once signed.

Plastic Bags on Beach

Plastic Bags on Beach

“Single-use plastic bags not only litter our beaches, but also our mountains, our deserts, and our rivers, streams and lakes,” said state Senator Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill. The measure will also “provide money to local plastic bag companies to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags that customers could buy”. We are the proud owners of quite a few, durable, bags purchased from Whole Foods Markets over the years. In California, there has been a particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, could harm ocean life.

Good for him sticking with it. It hasn’t been easy. After the defeat of his earlier bill in part due to opposition from plastic bag makers, Padilla won the support for this measure of some California-based bag makers by including the funding for retooling. However, the backlash has been fierce in recent months, as out-of-state manufacturers campaigned heavily against the bill, even going so far as producing television advertisements targeting Padilla personally, as he campaigns for secretary of state.

~ Information Resources

“Study: 100 times less plastic than expected polluting ocean surface” by Steve Toloken posted 07/23/14 in Plastics News –

“A Journey to the The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” –

“Choking the Oceans With Plastic” by Charles J Moore posted 8/25/14 at NY –

“Disappearing ocean plastics is nothing to celebrate” posted in the Algalita Marine Research Blog –

International Campaign Against Microbeads In Cosmetics –

“California Plastic Bag Ban Would Be First Of Its Kind In The Nation” by Aaron Mendelson posted 8/30/2014 in the Huffington Post “Green” –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Rebirthing Oil

Drops of Oil

One of the most exciting developments to me, is the idea that a natural resource can be extracted, a product created from the processes of refining that resource and then, at some point later on, be transmuted again back into the basic natural resource. Talk about cradle to cradle – this is certainly that.

It isn’t all that different in concept from what we do when we take feedstocks of sorted and purified post-consumer recycled materials and create new products from those that can function as restroom partitions, countertops, cashwraps, flooring and other surfacing treatments. However, we are in that middle point and not taking product back to basic natural resource. In fact, our products do not actually begin at the basic natural resource stage but further along that processing line.

2014 RisingStars  cartoon by Rich Williams

2014 RisingStars
cartoon by Rich Williams

The Aug 11, 2014 issue of Plastics News featured a list of talented young entrepreneurs and environmentalists. One in particular caught my attention. Twenty-nine year old, Joe Shamatta of 3R Recycling Inc (founded in 2012) in Avon, MA. When asked “What emerging technology or market most interests you ?”, he replied in part – “The most fascinating emerging tech, to me, is being done by a company in New York and it involves turning plastic into oil. I think this technology is one of the most amazing in the past decade. I am looking forward to the progress made in this field.”

JBI Inc of Niagra Falls NY CEO John Bordynuik claims to have “invented a process that converts plastic into oil by rearranging its hydrocarbon chains”, in an interview conducted by Daniel Robison for NPR posted on March 19, 2012. According to tests by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, JBI’s patented Plastic2Oil (P2O) technology is efficient, with close to 90 percent of plastics coming out as fuel. “When there have been attempts in the past to make fuel from plastic, it’s been low-quality, low-flashpoint, kind of sludgy,” he says. “In this case here, we’re making a very highly refined, consistent product that’s within specifications of any standardized fuel.” If JBI has its way, plastics will become a significant source of domestic fuel that reduces the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

JBI Crayola ColorCycle

JBI is also a partner with Crayola to produce diesel and other liquid fuels using JBI’s Plastic2Oil® (“P2O”) process. This will be accomplished by utilizing participating K-12 schools and will encourage students to responsibly dispose of used Crayola markers through an in-school collection process. Markers will be sent to JBI, where they will be used as feedstock.


In that same issue of Plastics News, I found this article as well – “Oregon plant that converts waste-plastics-to-oil shuts down” by Jim Johnson. Agilyx Corp created the technology that operated in Portland OR, but Waste Management Inc actually owns that operation. Though Waste Management’s decision to idle the facility will have local impacts, Agilyx issued a statement that – “it’s moving forward with the sixth and next generation of its plastics-to-oil technology and plans to own and operate the new operation in Portland”.

Waste Management’s decision does not impact its continuing investment in Agilyx and it “is evaluating whether it wants to retrofit the shuttered site with the new generation of technology”. Waste Management’s spokeswoman Jackie Lang also issued a statement saying – “We know the technology works”. Another high profile investor in the process is forward thinking Richard Branson. The new facility is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2015 and Agilyx issued a statement that “this will also mark the first Agilyx owned and operated facility, which will be open to commercial plastic generators and aggregators”.

Mining Dump Truck

Mining Dump Truck

Coincidentally, the same week that I was learning about these exciting new processes, a mass-mailing of “Tyre and Rubber Recycling”, a publication originating at Delmar Press in Nantwich Cheshire UK arrived in our mailbox. I might not have been all that interested in most of what is there (though one of our products Tire Veneer is recycled rubber buffings from used vehicle tires) but there was an article titled “Titan International Steps Up Interest in Titan Tire Reclamation”. I have been up close to these enormous dump trucks in Minnesota that the various mines there utilize. Those are some VERY BIG TIRES !!! And like all tires, they do wear out and must be disposed of.

The article describes a partnership with Suncor Energy of Ft McMurray Canada for the next 10 years, to operate a pyrolysis system developed by Green Carbon (a company related to Titan by familial bonds). The system uses 75% of gas from the tires in a special reactor that produces approx 500 gallons of oil, 4,000 lbs of carbon black and 2,000 lbs of steel. Oil companies will be buying the oil to process further into bio kerosene. This system is expected to be up and running by the summer of 2015.

~ Information Resources

“The next generation of leaders” by Jeannie Reall, posted Aug 12, 2014 at Plastics News –

JBI Inc P20 –

“JBI Inc. and Crayola Partner to Launch ‘COLORCYCLE’ Program” posted Aug 1st, 2013 –

“Startup Converts Plastic To Oil, And Finds A Niche” by Daniel Robison for NPR posted March 19, 2012 –

“Oregon plant that converts waste plastic to oil shuts down” by Jim Johnson, posted Aug 6, 2014 at Plastics News –

Agilyx Corp –

“Tyre and Rubber Recycling” –

Titan International –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Waste Awareness

I really love that more people are becoming more and more aware about “waste” – their waste – the stuff that they need to get out of their space. In the old days, one just dumped it in the “trash” and let the sanitation department worry about it. That is thankfully what is changing.

Recently, in our email, we received news of the “Save A Sample – Design Sample Recycling Drive”. Our business has incrementally moved away from the “business as usual” model of catalogs and samples sent out to every possible target. The nature of interior design seems to us to be changing and there is somewhat of a move away from a room full of “stuff” and someone to mind it in favor of “just in time specific samples”. So, we are adapting to that mindset as well. Still, there is an abundance of the “stuff” out there in the field remaining and continuing to flow in. Two of the largest sources of continuous sample chain sets and brochures – Formica and Wilsonart – have invested significantly in this year’s drive that now includes 8 cities in this it’s 16th year.


So, what does “Save A Sample” do ? It transfers thousands of pounds of materials (unused brochures, fabrics, laminates, tiles and finish cards used within the interior and architectural professions) via the help of local furniture dealers and installers, to students at local design schools. This offers a relatively low cost method of supplying students with a richer set of resources for their studies during the educational year. For more information visit


“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.” ~ 2004 statement of philosophy for the Zero Waste International Alliance. This organization continues to have annual conferences. The next one will be in Oct in Canada. More information here –

Construction & Demolition Waste Composition

Construction & Demolition
Waste Composition

The construction and demolition industries have become more aware of the waste that these generate. Builder’s Booksource offers a LEED-based toolkit for “Recycling Construction and Demolition Waste” that suggests that it is possible to recycle “as much as 95 percent of new construction and demolition waste, reuse existing materials, and comply with U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED waste management guidelines”. There is a Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA) that promotes and defends the environmentally sound recycling of the more than 325 million tons of recoverable construction and demolition (C&D) materials which are generated in the United States annually. These materials include aggregates such as concrete, asphalt, asphalt shingles (roofing), gypsum wallboard (drywall), wood and metals.

I know how moving into a business involved with recycling really began to affect our own perspectives. We recycle everything possible – plastic, paper including cardboard, glass and metal. We compost everything organic. Our landfill trash is the least significant of our wastes. I’d love to say we are Zero Waste – maybe someday. It is certainly a goal to strive for. Yet, we do live in a modern era and we depend upon those who design and develop products to continue doing what they do best and we are grateful that awareness about waste, has become an important component of such thinking.

~ Information Resources

Save A Sample – Design Sample Recycling Drive –

Zero Waste International Alliance –

Recycling Construction and Demolition Waste – A LEED-Based Toolkit –

Construction & Demolition Recycling Assoc –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


From a Concept to a Reality

If one has not been involved with “applied” science directly, they may not realize the degree to which our places of higher learning, actually impact the commercial world as manufactured products. Recently, I was given the pleasure of reconnecting with a business acquaintance, Julee Herdt, that we had lost touch with for a decade. She is an Architect and Professor of Architecture at the University of Colorado in Boulder. A decade ago, she was the architecture faculty lead in back-to-back wins for the U of CO in the prestigious US Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon competition.

Julee Herdt

Julee Herdt

I was happy to learn that she is on the verge of setting up a factory, to commercialize her “concept” for a 100% waste cellulose building panel known as BioSIPs (Bio for “living” and SIPs for “structural insulated panels”). Using waste fibers combined with natural, salvage and repurposed materials, she has created a sustainable building material. Herdt worked with the USDA Forest Products Lab to apply their research and technology in order to develop her BioSIPs board, taking low-grade “waste” – like paper, agricultural and a variety of wood wastes – and engineering that into panels with a consistent and predictable strength.

2010 BioSIPs  prototype research shed

2010 BioSIPs
prototype research shed

In 2005, Herdt’s BioSIPS board provided the structural insulated wall, floor and roof panels to create an affordable and energy-efficient solar-powered house that earned CU it’s second Solar Decathlon win. By 2011, Herdt had received a State of CO grant that allowed her to complete an entire building (including interior structures and furniture), diverting 3-1/2 tons of waste fibers as BioSIPs board. By 2013, Herdt’s BioSIPS inventions were honored by the US Green Building Council as “Colorado’s Green Product” of the year.

Yemm & Hart has often been approached by individuals who have been inspired by our post-consumer recycled materials. We have attracted a wide range of attention from artists to serious interior designers and architects with our visually stimulating products. Time and again, we have experienced individuals with interesting ideas but not the least idea of how to take a concept and create a marketable product. That is where our long experience as innovative entrepreneurs has given us the understanding to do just that – take a concept, create and actually manufacture a product – plus know how to market that product and create sales. The concept behind Origins was a slab of particle board. In other words, replacing that traditional product with something made of waste materials. Or how about finding a second life for those little corks that you pop out of your wine bottle ?

Yemm & Hart  Wine Cork Tile

Yemm & Hart
Wine Cork Tile

Recently, an entity participating in our wine cork recycling effort, wanted us to guarantee that we could take their collected wine corks and deliver to them a product made ONLY from THEIR corks. We had to explain manufacturing realities to them. We wrote back – it would be the same as “providing a load of PET soda pop bottles to a major carpet manufacturer and asking them to track the resin from the bottles to the carpet. They just could not do it unless it was rail cars of resin going in and truckloads of carpet going out. It would still be difficult to determine when the target resin started and stopped”. Ideas are abundant but the know-how to turn ideas into products requires a broader understanding, experience and skill. And a degree of “luck” as well. Timing, economics, variations in market perceptions, demands and supply, are all factors that can derail even the best developed business plans based on true experience.

Gatoresin product_logo

Collaborations between institutions of higher learning and the commercial world can be beneficial for everyone. Recently, the Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research (a non-profit) identified more than 100 commercial projects that can benefit from technology developed at Florida’s state universities and private research institutions. US Bioplastics is receiving some funding for Gatoresin (created from feedstock waste, paper production by-products and other plant based wastes). The new material is bio-renewable, water-degradable plastic designed for use in highly disposable applications. The technology for this process is licensed by the firm from the University of Florida. The company expects its new product to be “a viable alternative to a large segment of oil-based, non-degradable plastics” according to the Institute’s CEO, Jamie Grooms, in his announcement for this funding.

~ Information Resources

“Furniture of the Future” by Vicki Hildner, University Communications for the University of Colorado –

“BioSIPs Research Structure” by Nicholas McMunn, AIA –

“BioSIPs Executive Summary” –

“Origins Introduction” by Yemm & Hart Ltd –

“About Recycled Cork” by Yemm & Hart Ltd –

“US Bioplastics receives funding to bring Gatoresin to the market” by Frank Esposito posted July 24, 2014 in Plastics News –

“About Gatoresin” –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


The Significance of Materials

Artistic Building Green

It is the most natural thing, that my husband and I have been drawn into a business, that allows the expression of our authentic environmentalist tendencies. We were environmentalists, before we had a business that transforms society’s waste products into “new” and high quality building materials. We were never extremists but always practical and realistic regarding our environmental perspectives. In the 25+ years we have been involved in an environmentally friendly business, we’ve seen a lot of change, we’ve watched businesses come and go, and we’ve become aware of when a professed environmentalism is not heartfelt but just another marketing ploy.

The newest trend is not simply supportive of “green materials” but supportive of human health. According to Brent Trenga – “Building ‘green’ has finally broken out of the LEED box its been handcuffed to for the last 10 years. The importance of building products to human health and to our environment has been brought back to its roots. Understanding where our building products come from, and the ecological footprint they leave behind, truly has the ability to unite the construction industry” and building product manufacturers.

Architect Green Home

At the American Institute of Architects website – there is a whole section devoted to materials and why they matter. You do not have to be a AIA Member to participate in a survey about materials – They would like to understand what matters to you and how you think about these issues. One must have some working knowledge of buildings, specifications and related understandings to have anything valuable to contribute to the survey. I have participated in it today.

The AIA asks, and I echo – “What if we could do more ?”. I have a deep appreciation for what architects do. “Architects do more than design buildings. Architects select the materials that touch people’s lives.” Each artist has a medium that the creative person works with. For architects, that medium is the materials that they use. The best architects are always seeking out new information in order to make ever smarter choices. And increasingly “health” matters – your health, their health, the planet’s health – to architects. This is the latest frontier in responsible architecture.

Bldg Occupant Health

The AIA Materials link for “Green Products and Materials: Past, Present, and Future” by Nadav Malin, President of BuildingGreen, notes that “using products with high recycled content is a good way to avoid the need for extracting more raw materials from the earth”. We are proud that is the core foundation of our business. All of our “new” materials are “recycled”. Many are 100% post-consumer recycled. Post industrial is a bigger problem by volume actually but post-consumer requires modifications to more behaviors.

The AIA has long-range goals as demonstrated by their 2030 Commitment program. We appreciate that. We love seeing so many of the architectural firms that we have worked with in our 25+ years in business on that AIA list for this commitment. “The AIA 2030 Commitment is a growing national initiative that provides a consistent, national framework with simple metrics and a standardized reporting format to help firms evaluate the impact design decisions have on an individual project’s energy performance. To truly rise to meet the energy reduction goals of 2030, we have to apply the principles of sustainable design to every project from its inception and early design through project completion and ongoing building operations–not just those projects where our clients wish to pursue third party green building certification. The profession can’t meet radical building energy use reduction targets one project at a time and architects are embracing the challenge at hand by thinking differently about sustainable design.”

Healthy Material Selection graph

Concepts of Waste, Water, Carbon, Materials and Biodiversity are all important considerations as owners and professionals discuss and explore the choices available to them regarding their construction plans. Overall, life on this planet continues to grow in complexity and this is true in the architectural and construction realms as well. Areas of concern, into which decisions are expanding, include occupant health, the overall environment and resource depletion. The materials and techniques used in creating a “green building” should ideally have no negative impact on the environment.

With ALL of our products, we strive to meet traditional building design concerns of quality, economy, utility, durability, and aesthetics. Denielle D’Ambrosio notes in her blog about the Principles, Strategies & Measures in Green Building that “Taking a holistic approach to implementing these strategies puts us in a better position to preserve our environment for future generations by conserving natural resources and protecting air and water quality”. All issues of importance to us personally and that we strive to express in our business practices. We certainly agree with her perspective that “green building is a whole-systems approach to building design and construction”.

~ Information Resources

“Materials Matter to the AIA” by Brent Trenga, Director of Sustainability, posted at GreenWizard on July 23, 2014 –

“Material Matter Campaign” AIA –

“Green Products and Materials: Past, Present, and Future” by Nadav Malin, President of BuildingGreen –

“The AIA 2013 Commitment” –

“Principles, Strategies & Measures in Green Building” by Denielle D’Ambrosio, Director of Marketing, posted at GreenWizard on July 14, 2014 –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer