The Plastic Man

 “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.”

“Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.”

Sometimes it is embarrassing to be associated with an industry such as the Plastics industry. Even though what we do is environmentally friendly (keeping already existing plastics out of the landfill) and the plastics that we are dealing with HDPE, LDPE and PP “seem” relatively benign. However, it does not appear that we can trust any assurances from the chemical industry.

The Huffington Post has a damning article titled “Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia” by Mariah Blake (see Information Resources at the end of this blog for a link). It is a saga yet to reach it’s conclusion. It is the story of the Washington Works, a plant in the DuPont family of companies and the Dry Run Creek landfill. It is the story of intentional deception on the part of DuPont. It is the story of how our modern day conveniences and ease in living are often obtained through the horrendous suffering of everyday people while the corporation – inherently different from a small business where someone actually cares and there is a “buck stops here” sense of responsibility – grows enormously wealthy and seeks to shed any liability for its actions in doing so.

DuPont assured the family on who’s farm it wanted to obtain a landfill that it would only dispose of non-toxic material like ash and scrap metal. It is easy for me to believe that with large corporations the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. That the person making these assurances believed them. That whoever was responsible for supervising the transport and disposal of toxic substances in that landfill may have known nothing about such assurances. This is one of the more troubling aspects of corporations – no direct human responsibility as the corporation is a non-human entity – even though human beings are employed by it.

Teflon Happy Pan

I know it has long been troubling for me to see the Teflon (or its more recent similarly structured derivatives) non-stick coating on my electric kettle and skillet flake off and I’ve not felt entirely reassured that it is safe and inert. There seems to be a good reason for my reluctance and distrust of the chemical industry in general. Thankfully, the last electric skillet I purchased has what appears to be a very durable surface that does not flake off, although it may subtly disintegrate imperceptibly over time. There is no way for me to be certain.

The histories of our various chemical giants like DuPont, 3M, Monsanto and Union Carbide just to name some of the more recognizable is littered with enough worrisome behavior as to justify a degree of bad karma for these businesses. After congressional hearings in 1934, DuPont (who had “supplied half of the world’s gunpowder and was expanding into bombs and poison gas. But it was drawing fire on the home front”) was advised that “the only way DuPont could escape the ‘atmosphere of plague’,” was to “transform its image from that of a purveyor of doomsday weaponry to a maker of peacetime products that benefited American society”.

Thus was born the “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry” blueprint for the future. “Through the marvels of science, synthetic materials would free people from mundane tasks, allowing them to lead lives of leisure and ease.” DuPont’s legacy with Teflon traces itself back to its use in coating “the valves and seals of the Manhattan Project’s uranium enrichment equipment”. There was also created the idea of The Plastic Man in the late 1940s. “This fortunate being would enter a world of ‘color and bright shining surfaces, where childish hands find nothing to break … no crevices to harbour dirt or germs’. He would live his life ‘surrounded on every side by this tough, safe, clean material which human thought has created’.” There was even a comic book series of that name.

Plastic Man comics

It can be frequently seen that large corporations create smaller entities to shirk financial responsibility. Prior to Sept. 1, 1997, a corporation that was then known as the “Monsanto Company” operated an “ag business”, a pharmaceuticals and nutrition business and a chemicals business. A company known as Solutia (currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eastman Chemical Company) now operates Monsanto’s former chemicals business. This past July 2015, “DuPont spun off its specialty chemicals division into a separate company called Chemours. The new enterprise will assume the liability for DuPont’s most polluted sites, including Washington Works—but it will only have one-quarter of DuPont’s revenue. Many people with cases pending against DuPont worry that it will use this arrangement to avoid paying damages.”

3M was long the supplier of C8 (perfluorooctanoic acid) to DuPont. C8 is a soaplike substance that gives Teflon its nonstick qualities. It is also found in thousands of household products, including carpeting, waterproof clothes, dental floss, kitty litter and cosmetics to name a few. Only in May 2000 did 3M annouce that it would phase out a close relative of C8 called perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS used in Scotchgard fabric protector. Over the decades, DuPont has dumped huge quantities of Teflon waste into the ocean and into unlined pits along the Ohio River. When 3M began shutting down its C8 production, DuPont began manufacturing the chemical itself.

Ad for 3M Scotchgard

Ad for 3M Scotchgard

DuPont was involved in “another cover-up involving a grease-repellant chemical called Zonyl that is used in candy wrappers, pizza boxes and countless other food containers. DuPont had long insisted that the substance didn’t migrate into the food, but internal documents showed that it seeped off packaging at levels three times higher than what the FDA regarded as safe—and then broke down into C8”. C8 has been detected everywhere. In produce and beef in American grocery stores, polar bears in the Arctic, even children in the remote Faeroe Islands. One analysis of blood banks from around the world showed that nearly all of the blood contained C8.

Monsanto claims that they are a relatively new company even though they share the name and history of a company that was founded in 1901. Monsanto can claim credit for Saccharin used in 1902 by Coca-Cola. In 1929, Monsanto became the largest producer of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were later banned in the 1970s. They remain to this day they in the water along Dead Creek in Sauget, IL (just across the Mississippi River from St Louis, MO where Monsanto is headquartered) where Monsanto had its plant for manufacturing PCBs. By 1938 Monsanto was largely involved in the plastics business. And from 1939 to 1945 Monsanto did a lot of research on enriching uranium for Manhattan project. During WWII, Monsanto was involved in the production of PCBs, DDT and chemical weapons. From 1961 to 1971 Monsanto was involved in the production of Agent Orange which was sprayed on the Vietnamese civilians and American troops during the Vietnam War. No wonder they wish to distance themselves from the “old” company !!

It can be disconcerting to learn that under the final version of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 existing chemicals are all “grandfathered” in. Only five chemicals have ever been banned under the Toxic Substances Control Act. This means that only a handful of the 80,000-plus chemicals on the market have ever been tested for safety. Manufacturers are required to “inform” the EPA when they introduce new chemicals; however, no testing of such chemicals is required. This regulatory regime still exists today. “We are all, in effect, guinea pigs in a vast, haphazard chemistry experiment.” Since the Toxic Substances Control Act makes it extremely difficult for the EPA to ban chemicals, the best the EPA could do was negotiate with DuPont for a voluntary phase-out by 2015.

I am grateful that Missouri appears to be free of drinking water PFC contamination in the counties that have been tested for it. Our county has not been tested but it is reassuring to know that it is unlikely that we have any concerns related to this particular substance being in our drinking water though larger concerns remain due to C8 being already generally pervasive throughout modern society. You can check your location at the Environmental Working Groups interactive map – PFC Contamination.

Environmental Working Group Section of Map showing PFC Contamination

Environmental Working Group
Section of Map showing PFC Contamination

~ Information Resources

“Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia” by Mariah Blake posted at Huffington – http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/welcome-to-beautiful-parkersburg/

PFC Contamination in Drinking Water, an interactive map, at the Environmental Working Group – http://static.ewg.org/reports/2015/pfoa_drinking_water/interactive_map/index.html

Monsanto Company History – http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/pages/monsanto-history.aspx

“Dark History of Monsanto” posted at Seattle Organic Restaurants – http://www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-foods/dark-history-monsanto/

“Corporate Relationships Among Monsanto Company” – http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/pages/monsanto-relationships-pfizer-solutia.aspx

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

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Unintended Consequences

Gold King Mine 1899

Gold King Mine 1899

When in the course of human events, intentional actions bring unintended consequences, it may be intelligent to notice that there exists an imbalance that needs adjustment. Therefore I did appreciate an editorial that was posted in the NY Times online Aug 20, 2015 “When a River Runs Orange” by Gwen Lachelt. This article makes the point that mining laws placed on the books back in 1872 are still in effect and having an impact on the circumstances related to abandoned mining operations in the United States.

She notes that “A study by the environmental group Earthworks estimated that approximately 500,000 abandoned and unreclaimed mines litter the country. The E.P.A. says that mining pollutes approximately 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds and that cleaning up these mines may cost American taxpayers more than $50 billion.”

EarthWorks has a lot of information on the General Mining Law of 1872 and the need for reform. They note that it was signed into law by President Ulysses S Grant and that the mining law allows “mining interests to take valuable hardrock minerals including gold, silver, and uranium from public lands without royalty payment to the taxpayer unlike other mining industries that extract coal, oil or natural gas” and “to buy valuable mineral bearing public lands for no more than $5 per acre” which was the price set in 1872 and which has never been adjusted for inflation. The fact is that “19th century America wasn’t concerned with environmental protection. So the mining law doesn’t contain environmental protection provisions”.

Animas River Before and After

Animas River
Before and After

It’s just that when rivers run an Orange color it attracts attention . . . “The Mining Law has been historically interpreted to trump all other potential uses of public lands. If you hold a mining claim, that claim is treated as a right-to-mine by the federal government. The federal government is on record as saying that they cannot say no to mining proposals. Even if those proposals threaten some of America’s most special places. Even if those proposals pollute clean water.”

And who are some of the people currently impacted by the EPAs unintended consequences when their contractor was investigating the Gold King Mine near Silverton, CO because it was already seriously polluting the Animas River ? When that big “oops” of accidentally releasing 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the river happened. The “problem” now directly impacts the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The Navajo Farming Authority has had to “shut off public water intakes and irrigation canals”. Hundreds of Navajo farmers and ranchers must now drive long distances to water their crops and livestock. “This contamination brings up memories of other environmental disasters caused by the federal government. One in particular that Navajo people are talking about is uranium mine contamination — a decades-long legacy that still affects people on the reservation today. The EPA has only started in the last seven years to clean up those mines.”

Navajo Sheepherder

Navajo Sheepherder

There have been some small legal patches applied in recent decades as noted in a Bureau of Land Management assessment of the Madison Watershed in Montana which includes information about the impacts of mining and abandoned mine lands there. Federal policy details as outlined in this report are probably pretty consistent in perspective everywhere mining has been a part of any local region – “The Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), and the Natural Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act of 1980 direct that the public lands be managed in a manner that recognizes the nation’s needs for domestic sources of mineral production. Under the Mining Law of 1872, claimants have a statutory right to develop their mineral deposits consistent with applicable environmental laws. The mineralized areas of the watershed have seen extensive mineral development over the past 150 years. The BLM Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program is responsible for cleaning up sites determined to be hazardous to human health, to the environment, or those which present physical safety hazards to the public. Early mining prior to 1981 did not require reclamation or bonding, many of these abandoned mines have legacy features such as eroding dumps, abandoned tailings, or open mine features. Reclamation will be prioritized by the magnitude of the environmental problem, the severity of the safety risk, funding available, and/or the partnerships available to conduct the work.”

North American Lead Co Fredericktown, MO

North American Lead Co
Fredericktown, MO

So why do we at Yemm & Hart care ? – apart from having environmentalist’s hearts in general. It is because we live and work in an area that has been contaminated by mining practices in the past. My region of Missouri was historically and heavily influenced by early lead mining and later on in more recent times cobalt mining as well. Mining here has left large tracts of “wasteland” locally. Lead mining in our region dates back to the very first French settlers before there was even a General Mining Law of 1872. The sad truth is that mining practices in our region resulted in us becoming “known” as a EPA SuperFund Site identified as the Missouri Mines Site. Before the local population knew “better” tailings from the mines were often used on residential yards, in sidewalk construction and on driveways. Children in the area have been widely tested for lead exposure and remediation has been accomplished locally by digging up yards and replacing top soil.

It is interesting to note that my husband comes from a long family line of coal miners beginning in the Gloucestershire area of the UK and immigrating into the coal fields of Illinois and Indiana in the US. Eventually, his family worked their way out of the mines and into other occupations but it is still interesting to note that we ended up on a farm in the Lead Belt mining region of Missouri – although thankfully there were no direct mining activities here on our land or anywhere nearby.

Lachelt notes at the end of her editorial that there is a comprehensive reform of the old law currently being attempted and that “Congress already has a bill before it that will do it: H.R. 963, the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015, introduced by Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. The new law, currently bottled up in committee, would create a fund to clean up abandoned and inactive mines by establishing an 8 percent royalty on all new hard-rock mines on public lands, a 4 percent royalty on existing mines on public lands and reclamation fees on all hard-rock mines, including those that were ‘purchased’ for low prices under the 1872 Mining Law. A similar system is already in place for abandoned coal mines, so there’s no practical reason it can’t work for hard-rock mining too. The bill would also improve both reclamation standards and requirements that mining companies financially guarantee that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up existing mines.”

~ Information Resources

“When a River Runs Orange” posted Aug 20, 2015 in the NY Times online – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/opinion/when-a-river-runs-orange.html?ref=opinion&_r=1

General Mining Law of 1872 posted at EarthWorksAction.org – https://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/general_mining_law_of_1872

“Navajo Nation Farmers Feel The Weight Of Colorado Mine Spill” story on NPR by Laurel Morales aired Aug 17, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/08/17/432600254/navajo-nation-farmers-feel-the-weight-of-colorado-mine-spill

“‘Yellow Dirt’: The Legacy of Navajo Uranium Mines” aired Oct 22, 2010 on NPR and based on the book “Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed” by Judy Pasternak – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130754093

Pgs 10 -11 and 58 – 59 – “Mining, Minerals and Abandoned Mine Lands” in the Madison Watershed of Montana, report published at Bureau of Land Management – http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/mt/field_offices/dillon/madison.Par.4414.File.dat/report.pdf

“Madison County Mines EPA Superfund Site” – http://www.epa.gov/Region7/cleanup/npl_files/mod098633415.pdf

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

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Who Wouldn’t Want Clean Power ?

Einstein Quote w Tree

Judging by the flurry of articles in our local Democrat-News published on Aug 12, 2015 there are certainly some who don’t want to make the effort to have cleaner sources of powering our electricity in these parts of our country. They include not only our local rural electric co-op and the guiding National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) but our politicians as well. That our politicians are directly supportive of our electric utilities doesn’t surprise me. The monthly Rural Missouri co-operative publication has been carrying editorials against the EPAs initiatives for months, maybe a year or longer. So of course it doesn’t surprise me to see editorial pieces this week in our local newspaper by Congressman Jason Smith (R) or Sen Roy Blunt (R) against the EPA plan as well.

I’ve only seen ONE real argument against making any changes to how we get our electricity from any of these official sources – COST.

Sen Roy Blunt – “Electric service providers in Missouri have warned that the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan will raise energy costs for Missourians . . . ” and “Middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, . . .”

Congressman Jason Smith – “. . . under the Clean Air Act . . . emission limits will raise the price of electricity, force the closure of coal plants in Missouri and cost people jobs . . .”

Jo Ann Emerson (former Missouri Congresswoman, now CEO for the NRECA) – “Any increase in the cost of electricity impacts those who can least afford it, . . .” and “While we appreciate the efforts . . . the Clean Air Act . . . will raise electricity rates . . .”

Barry Hart, CEO Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives – “We are focused on the affordability . . . of electricity” and “. . . the final rules make it far more likely electric rates will dramatically increase.”

Maybe we don’t pay enough for electricity here in Missouri. We love our right to pollute in order to keep our costs low. Certainly, the burden will be on the poorer segments of society. I’m certain that there will be no executives volunteering to cut their salary in order to keep the increased cost of electricity lower for the poorer segments of society !! I do worry that “enormously wealthy individuals and vastly powerful corporations are digging in their heels and allowing themselves to be willfully blinded to reality, all in the name of milking the last few dollars out of a dying economy based on fossil fuels”.

Missouri's Callaway Nuclear Generating Station

Missouri’s Callaway
Nuclear Generating Station

Jim Jura, CEO Associated Electric Cooperative notes that “Coal generation has been a significant factor in providing our members with reliable electricity at low rates.” He also complains that the EPAs new rules do not credit electric cooperatives for the 750 megawatts of renewable energy from wind farms nor the millions of dollars spent on energy efficiency measures to reduce demand. Yes, Missouri does have a serious problem with the new EPA regulations.

In 2013, coal supplied 83% of Missouri’s net electricity generation. The state had one nuclear power plant, the Callaway Nuclear Generating Station, which contributes 9% of the state’s net electricity generation. And renewable energy resources accounted for only about 3% of Missouri’s net electricity with most of this coming from conventional hydroelectric power and wind. Honestly, I’ve no idea where the other 5% comes from as that was not identified at the US Energy Information Administration’s website !! So while I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in Sen Claire McCaskill’s (D) lack of a visionary energy perspective as well, I do think she does make an important point – Missouri won’t be able to make such extreme modifications to our energy delivery systems in only 5 years, and maybe not even in 15 years.

I am grateful for our electricity. I miss it when we don’t have it. Our lives are built around access to certain conveniences. I certainly don’t prefer having to use the gas powered generator that we are reduced to when we have an extended power outage usually because of some storm. Thankfully these don’t happen too often. Gas powered generators are noisy and I don’t think gas is the “cleanest” kind of energy.

Electricity Cost

It’s not that I really want my electric bill to cost us more. Currently we pay $372 + each month for our local electricity consumption. No one (including us) really wants to pay more for anything. I’ve been grateful to see gasoline prices falling (yes falling, which seems like a novel idea at the moment) over the last year or two. However, I must admit that my environmentalist heart is in conflict with my frugal heart at the moment on this whole issue. We can’t forever deny the atmospheric challenges that are affecting our weather, will likely affect our food crops and often affect the quality of air that people breathe leading to suffering and diseases.

So I see this Clean Power Plan as something similar to Obamacare – not the perfect solution, not the complete answer to one of the more vexing, complex and difficult to solve problems of our time but it’s a beginning, an attempt to right the balance that sustains life on this planet. I fear sometimes that we are already too late but throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing certainly can’t help. Pretending there isn’t a serious imbalance in our environmental qualities, or being in such a state of denial that we think there really isn’t a “problem” at all, won’t help us arrive at cleaner sources of energy generation.

My partner says we need a new kind of energy. Yes, that is what we really need now !! And that happy circumstance is not in our view finders currently.

Current Energy Choices

In this blog I try to be a voice that is reasonable and practical about the complexity of our environmental choices. As I write this morning, I am gazing at a thorny thicket which is blocking the forward progress of humanity. How do we keep the environmental quality of this planet at the level of human sustainability ? The way is not clear. Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” So we need an entirely different perspective on how to supply our energy needs. Not simple resistance, not blind denial, not optimistic sugar plums. I don’t personally have a creative vision of something that will solve this problem for us. But I do hope there are some humans out there who will yet find that opening into a brighter future. I believe there is no issue of more importance in our modern times than the resources we choose to supply our energy requirements and the ways in which our human behaviors affect the planet’s climate. There are so many ways that both of these are going to directly affect the quality of life for humans going into the future.

Even as far back as 1957, Admiral Hyman Rickover (a visionary with the gift of great insight and clear thinking) had this to say –

“The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume. In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.”

“Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.”

Unfortunately, current energy strategies are at present based on unsustainable thinking. When it comes to public policies and strategic planning, a complete rethinking must take place in order to step away from self-destructing behavior. While it is understandable for us to focus on novel ways of obtaining energy (wind, solar, geothermal or nuclear power sources), it has long been recognized that simply reducing demand is cost effective and can help sustain us in the short term at least. Realistically there will be inefficiencies in our attempts at converting to alternate energy sources. Our dependence on complex systems means that we will need time to find a way. Using less energy in general, recycling most of the resources we do use (hopefully approaching even as high as 90-95% recycled) will keep enough material in the cycle to also help keep restocking demands from as yet untapped resources low.

Conserve Energy

~ Information Resources
(please note that this week you may not find ALL of the information resources below quoted or used in my blog but these are all good sources of information on this topic which I have located while doing my own research that may help you to form opinions and perspectives for your own self about this important issue. ~ Deborah Hart Yemm)

On New EPA Rule—McCaskill Leads Colleagues in Pursuing Commonsense Adjustments to Protect Consumers – posted on Sen McCaskill’s website Dec 10, 2014 – http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/media-center/news-releases/on-new-epa-rulemccaskill-leads-colleagues-in_pursuing-commonsense-adjustments-to-protect-consumers

How Obama’s Clean Power Plan actually works — a step-by-step guide posted Aug 5, 2015 by Brad Plumer at Vox – http://www.vox.com/2015/8/4/9096903/clean-power-plan-explained

Clean Power Plan puts children ahead of polluters posted July 14, 2015 at Clean Air Missouri from the Columbia Daily Tribune – http://www.cleanairmissouri.org/clean-power-plan-puts-children-ahead-of-polluters/

Affordable Electricity Rural America’s Economic Lifeline – http://www.nreca.coop/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Affordable-Electricity-Rural-Americas-Economic-Lifeline.pdf

Clean Power Plan posted at the EPA website – http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan posted Aug 3, 2015 by Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator – https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/08/6-things-clean-power-plan/

Elon Musk: Burning Fossil Fuels “Dumbest Experiment In History” posted Mar 30, 2015 by Steve Hanley at Gas2.org – http://gas2.org/2015/03/30/musk-burning-fossil-fuels-dumbest-experiment-ever/

Sustainable Cities and Military Installations pg 238 as edited by Igor Linkov and published Nov 12, 2013 is posted at Google Books – https://goo.gl/5RXRae

Missouri State Profile and Energy Estimates – posted at the US Energy Information Administration website – http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MO

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

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Helping Create A Cleaner World

Ecossential Motel Soaps

Ecossential Hotel Soaps

Sometimes the little things actually do matter. Take hotel soaps for example. One third of the world’s soap is used by people living in the United States. 2.6 million hotel size bars of soap are thrown away as hotel rooms are cleaned each day in the United States alone.

How often do you use all the soap a hotel provides for you ? I will admit that we bring home both opened and unopened bars of soap since our perception is that the hotel has allotted a certain amount of soap as covered by the bill we have paid. How about you ? Do you use those soaps and shampoos once you get home ? We actually do try to use them. If a natural disaster occurs and we are donating stuff to help the local people get by until they can get back on their feet, we might include a ziplock bag full of these if they have accumulated faster in our household than we have been able to use them.

I recently discovered the Clean the World Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization that collects from more than 1,000 hotel partners in North America then recycles and distributes these hotel soaps and bottled amenities not only in the United States but also in 40 countries abroad. The environmental impact of this effort has diverted an estimated 550 tons of hotel waste from landfills in the United States and Canada.

Clean the World was started in Orlando, Florida in 2009 in the one-car garage of Shawn Seipler, a sales executive. Never believe that one person can’t make a huge difference in the world. Seipler wondered what happened to the tiny bars of soap leftover from his 150 nights spent in hotel rooms each year. When he found out that the soap was thrown away, while children died around the world each day because they had no access to soap, he decided to form Clean the World.

Haitian Child with Soap

Haitian Child with Soap

By 2011, the foundation had collected, recycled and distributed more than 8 million soap bars to children and families in need in the United States and more than 40 countries, including Haiti, Japan, Zimbabwe, Uganda, India, Honduras, Mexico and Albania. Medical research studies have shown that simple hand washing with soap could help prevent hygiene related deaths by more than 60 percent, yet there are communities around the world in which soap is such a valuable commodity that hygiene is considered a luxury, not a necessity. Each day, 9,000 children around the world die from diseases such as acute respiratory illness and diarrheal diseases that can be prevented by washing with bar soap. These are the top two killers of children under the age of 5. Clean the World Foundation has a mission to provide soap where needed to help improve hygiene and sanitation conditions, to lessen the impact of disease, and to promote better hygiene and living conditions worldwide.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Georgia, Derreck Kayongo was troubled by his time visiting refugee camps, where illness was rampant because people had no access to soap. He partnered with a veteran hospitality executive who shared his same concerns about throwing away soaps at hotels and started the Global Soap Project in his basement. According to Global Soap, hand washing with soap can reduce diarrheal disease and respiratory infections because teaching proper hand washing techniques and providing soap is more effective than vaccines, medications or clean water initiatives alone.

It is estimated that over six years time, the efforts of these two soap recycling organizations have contributed to a 30% reduction in childhood deaths from hygiene-related illnesses. The organizations, Clean the World and Global Soap, have now joined forces in 2015 to work together to make an even larger impact on preventing illness caused by lack of proper hygiene. Clean the World now focuses on recycling the soap and toiletries at their three facilities in Orlando, Las Vegas and Hong Kong. They are the only high-volume soap recycler in the world. Global Soap is now focused on soap distribution and promoting global hygiene. The group uses local aid and non-governmental organizations to help with distribution and education, as well as sending their own teams into rural communities around the world to hand-deliver hygiene products and to teach residents about the importance of keeping clean.

Clean the World Las Vegas Recycling Facility

Clean the World
Las Vegas Recycling Facility

I bet you’re wondering – how is soap recycled ? I’m glad you asked !! In the beginning a Clean the World volunteer would “surface clean” the soaps. Now there are 3 industrial scale recycling facilities where the soap is ground up and sterilized to eliminate all pathogens and then pressed into new bars and wrapped. It is really a lot like the way that Yemm & Hart partners with facilities who clean the milk jugs and detergent bottles you recycle and then processes them into the standard resin feedstock form so that we can press this into new plastic panels for restroom partitions and countertops.

Want to recycle your own soap in your home for your family’s use ? “Instructables” offers step-by-step instructions along with color photos to guide you (see the link at ~ Information Resources below).

Old Soap for Recycling

~ Information Resources

“What Happens Next When Two Soap Recycling Programs Join Forces?” posted at Earth911 on Aug 5, 2015 – http://www.earth911.com/business-policy/clean-the-competition-soap-recycling-programs-join-forces/

“First Annual Clean the World Gala” posted on prweb on May 18, 2011 – http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/5/prweb8452571.htm

“How Recycled Bars Of Soap Could Help Prevent Illnesses In Developing Countries” by Brian Skoloff/Associated Press posted April 10, 2015 at the Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/10/clean-the-world_n_7042404.html

“Green Partitions – Successful Specifications for Polyethylene Partitions” posted at Yemm & Hart – http://www.yemmhart.com/products/partitions/partitions_success_spec.html

“Recycle your old Soap” by Gunk on Floor posted at Instructables – http://www.instructables.com/id/Reuse-Your-Old-Soap/

** PS – a word about Ecossentials Elements soap from Concept Amenities (image at the beginning of this blog). CA is serious about making a difference in the environmental problem of the 95% of the plastic used in hotel rooms ending up in landfills – where of course – they sit for hundreds of years. The company notes that the top 300 hotel groups in the world alone dispose of an estimated 5.5 billion amenity bottles and caps every year. Their plastic packaging is fully biodegradable in the landfill because it contains an FDA approved organic based additive that allows microbes to break it down. You can read more about “Mikey the Microbe” at Concept Amenities as well as additional information about the company, their values and their products at – http://www.conceptamenities.com/. Concept Amenities works with Australia’s hotel soap recycling organization – SoapAid (http://www.soapaid.org). CA has locations in Australia, the UK and Las Vegas NV in the US.

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

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Cut & Paste DNA

The cover of the August 2015 issue of Wired magazine declares – “No hunger. No pollution. No disease. And the end of life as we know it. The Genesis Engine. Editing DNA is now as easy as cut and paste. Welcome to the post-natural world.”

Red Grapefruit

In the early months of this year, I was on a Clementine kick. I loved the bite sized, easy to peel citrus fruit but alas the season ended and so I’ve started eating Red Grapefruit about 3-4 times a week to get my citrus fix. No idea why I crave citrus fruits these days but I honor the urge because it is at least a healthy one.

Imagine my surprise to discover in the Wired article that scientists back in the 1930s began playing around with intentional mutations by irradiating seeds and insect eggs with xrays to scatter the genomes around like shrapnel. Hundreds of undesirable traits were discarded but one that has lasted was the creation of Red Grapefruit. Another was the barley used in brewing most modern beers.

Since then a lot of work has been accomplished on genomes. As recently as 2002, molecular biologists had learned how to delete or replace specific genes using enzymes called zinc-finger nucleases. The next step from that was the technique that used enzymes known as TALENs. But these procedures were expensive and complicated.

Archaea graphic

Do you know what a palindrome is ? This is a series that is the same back to front and front to back. Some microbiologists that were sequencing the genomes of ancient bacteria and microbes called Archaea (actually the descendants of the first life on Earth !!) noticed recurring segments but didn’t know what they do. They did think they were a bit weird though and named these clusters Crispr.

A lot of people worry about GMOs and a lot of people hate Monsanto for that. And yet, according to the Wired article, scientists do care about the unintended consequences of the genies they are unleashing from their laboratories. Back in 1975, 140 scientists gathered at Asilomar in California in view of the inspiring landscape of the Monterey Penisula on the Pacific Ocean to consider the implications of “recombinant DNA”. That is decrypting and reordering genes to manipulate the source code of life.

The outcome of that meeting was a set of guidelines about how to isolate dangerous experiments and a determination that cloning and messing around with dangerous pathogens should be off-limits but they really couldn’t see the idea of modifying the human “germ line” (which would pass changes on to subsequent generations) as a realistic worry in the mid-1970s.

Fast forward to 2015 and once again researchers met at a conference, this time in Napa Valley, to talk about the implications of genome engineering. The gene editing technique known as Crispr-Cas9 was ALREADY readily accessible by everyone at this conference. Turns out that Crispr-Cas9 makes it easy, cheap and fast to move genes around – ANY genes – in any living thing from bacteria to human beings.

And researchers had already been utilizing the 3 year old technique to reverse mutations that cause blindness, stop cancer cells from multiplying or make cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists had rendered wheat invulnerable to powdery mildew and were looking for ways to better meet the food needs of the 9 million people inhabiting this planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter to create ethanol. And pharmaceutical companies have spun off Crispr R&D branches.

Manufacturing Designer Babies

By now, you have probably figured out that this technique is revolutionary and that it is perilous !! Crispr could allow genetics researchers to conjure up all the nightmare possibilities that keep some people awake at night – designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi imaginings.

I found the discussion about RNA in the Wired article interesting. In looking at bacteria, the researchers started wondering if Crispr was a primordial immune system. RNA is single-stranded genetic material whereas DNA is double-stranded. “Guide RNA” has been created by combining two strands of RNA into one fragment (and it can be made from whatever genetic “letters” they want and not just from viruses but well – they believe – from just about anything).

A microbiologist in Sweden named Emmanuelle Charpentier was working with Streptococcus pyogenes (yes, in a biohazard chamber alright !!). That is where she found the Cas9 mentioned previously. Cripr makes two short strands of RNA and Cas9 latches onto them. When the Crispr-Cas9 arrives at its destination, Cas9 does something almost magical – it changes shape, grasping the DNA and slicing it with a precise molecular scalpel.

The combination of Guide RNA and Cas9 has created a programmable machine for DNA cutting (hence the title of this blog). The stakes are high in the on-going patent battle (more than one party claims they were the “first”). The licensing of the patent could be worth billions in royalties.

The gene-editing possibilities of Crispr-Cas9 are limited only by scientific creativity and ethics. And there are lots of unknowns still on the frontier. Crispr could be used to treat some debilitating disorder in the womb and it might also be used for a less significant application like skin wrinkling in aging. The medical research community simply hasn’t had enough time to seriously discuss the ethics and safety even as the utilization of the technique rushes forward.

Beetle on Potato Plant

The April 4, 2015 issue of Science News describes the use of Beetle RNA to engineer plants by putting it in their leaves. These genes were inserted in plant cells called plastids. An example of one type of plastid is a chloroplast which performs photosynthesis. So the plant was laced with double-stranded beetle RNA so that if eaten by that beetle, it disabled certain genes and caused their guts to break down. The adult beetles stopped eating and their larvae that feasted on the plants were dead. Researchers believe that the technique is safe because the plastids have their own DNA that doesn’t make it into pollen and so won’t spread the beetle genes from the engineered crops in pollinating other plants.

I can’t claim to feel warm and fuzzy about it. I can only trust that they really do know what they are doing when they use their god-like powers to engineer new crops. Just like with Artificial Intelligence and the singularity that is looming ahead for us, I don’t think there is any stopping the “forward progress” ? of science in the realm of genomes.

~ Information Resources

“Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.” by Amy Maxmen in Wired Magazine – http://www.wired.com/2015/07/crispr-dna-editing-2/

Red Grapefruit photo courtesy of wikiHow “How to Eat a Grapefruit” – http://www.wikihow.com/Eat-a-Grapefruit

Archaea graphic from Microbe Hunter by Syazwani Aina posted May 9, 2015 – http://syazwaniainanana.blogspot.com/2015/05/archaea.html

Designer Babies image from Student Collaboration for the 21st Century – “The idea of progress” by Pierre-Yves Reignoux posted Nov 6, 2013 – http://studentcollaboration21.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-idea-of-progress-pierre-yves.html

“Beetle RNA makes crops a noxious meal” by Kate Baggaley posted Feb 26, 2015 Science News – https://www.sciencenews.org/article/beetle-rna-makes-crops-noxious-meal

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

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