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

***

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

***


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.

***

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

***


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

***


Having Fun Preserving The Past

City Museum exterior St Louis, Missouri

City Museum exterior
St Louis, Missouri

It had been a very long time, probably more than a decade, since I had last visited the City Museum in St Louis MO. My husband and boys went there frequently while I did the grocery shopping at Whole Foods Market and Dierberg’s. For my youngest son’s 11th birthday recently, I chose not to do any shopping and just have a family day. The first place we went on a very hot mid-90 degree F day was The City Museum. I have always appreciated what they do there. Not only are they preserving some very special and interesting bits and pieces of the city’s history (“a museum”) but they let visitors physically interact with much of it. The City Museum is a highly physical experience. It used to scare the heck out of me – that is some of the crawling structures on the outside of the building – but I’ve not heard of any serious mishaps due to poor construction. It is a challenging place and so one must be responsible for their own safety and what they do while there.

The City Museum bills itself as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” It has also been described as “a wild, singular vision of an oddball artistic mind”. Visitors are encouraged to touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits. It consists largely of re-purposed architectural and industrial objects which are housed in the former International Shoe building in the Washington Avenue Loft District in St Louis.

Ticket Counter St Louis City Museum

Ticket Counter
St Louis City Museum

My family made the trek up 10 stories of stairwells to have the opportunity of coming down the 10-Story Slide. I regret that the experience was not that awe-inspiring but we got some seriously sweaty exercise going for it. My youngest son spent a lot of time running up and down the Skate Park, which is a collection of skateboard ramps without the skateboards along with rope swings tied in front of some ramps. He enjoyed challenging himself by running up a ramp and trying to pull himself over the 12 ft tall wall. At one point we followed him into the dark hole of a maze and eventually I found myself slithering on my belly pushing my purse along and by the sound of it clearly under the bleachers of a circus ring (on the third floor) during one of their daily live acts. On that same floor is the Art City where guests can try their hand at a number of different art techniques. The City Museum also houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines makes colorful shoelaces for sale.

The roof has a small old-fashioned Ferris wheel. It also has a slide that goes under a small pond. The pond has stepping stones that go from one side to the other. The roof also has a school bus that had actually worked once, extending past the edge of the building. Visitors can walk in the school bus and open the door from the driver’s seat. Also found on the roof are a giant rope swing contained in a free-standing aluminum dome underneath the roof’s centerpiece; a giant metal praying mantis. It is possible to climb a series of enclosed metal ladders inside the dome to an exit at the top. Located in front of the building is the area dubbed “MonstroCity” which features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air, a fire engine, a castle turret, a 25-foot cupola and four-foot-wide Slinkies that can be crawled through, one very high that leads to a slide, and two ball pits (which both my 14 yr old and 11 yr spent some time in while we sat nearby in the shade with cool drinks).

“Got Byproducts ?” I was inspired to write this week’s blog by an email dated July 21, 2015 from repurposedMaterials on the subject of “Theme Park” which mentioned the City Museum in St Louis. According to the company – re•pur•posed•MA•TE•RI•ALS (noun) are byproducts and waste that have value “as is” to a second, unrelated industry. repurposedMATERIALS was started with the hypothesis… “There are enough byproducts and waste that can get a very different second life, or a “repurpose”, that you could make business out of the concept.” They note that almost five years later, they have proven their hypothesis to be true.

repurposedMaterials

In that same email, they introduced chemicalRepurposing – yikes !! Given my generally cautious perspective towards chemicals I am a bit anxious. In looking at that, they say that they “ended up with six fluid, mineral, chemical waste streams looking for a home”. Their list of chemicals includes carbon black powder, calcium carbonate, perlite, isopropyl alcohol, alumina, stoddard solvent, glass sludge and magnesium oxide.

Regarding our own business, I was interested in noting that they offer Bulk Bags. We use these for moving the wine cork stoppers that cycle through our own business. One contractor noted that “We use your bulk bags to fill with construction debris on the upper stories of our apartment complexes. We then crane the sacks full of rubbish right into the dumpster. Works great!” The list of the “byproducts” they offer is long and varied but here’s a sampling – narrow width belting, gym floor wood, old rails from railroad tracks, billboard vinyls and surplus paint. They even offer a 185′ pedestrian bridge.

I’m impressed that repurposedMaterials seems to invite a lot of participation in the form of suggestions for repurposing all kinds of products from their network of interested persons. They are located in Henderson CO near Denver. The company defines themselves as “industrial matchmakers” with examples like an Ohio River tug boat operator, a turkey farmer in Arkansas, a water well driller in Montana, or a thoroughbred horse stable in Kentucky. They claim to be responsible for diverting hundreds of thousands of pounds of “waste” that would otherwise be headed to the landfill by locating the industries that can give these materials a second life.

In the larger scheme of things, there is very little that you can’t repurpose, recycle or add to your compost pile but while I’m touching briefly upon the concept of repurposing, a cautionary note might be appropriate. Here are “12 Items You Should Never Repurpose Or Compost”.

[1] Motor Oil – recycle your oil properly in approved containers. There are specialized business that handle this waste product ethically and many auto parts stores and some garages will offer this service to you free of charge.

Coffee Mugs

[2] PVC, Polystyrene or Polycarbonate – never reuse (or even use once if you can avoid it) – #3 plastic (PVC), #6 plastic (polystyrene) and many #7 plastics (polycarbonate). They can leach toxins such s phthalates, dioxins and bishphenol-A into your food.

[3] Aluminum Containers unless coated internally with an enamel coating, don’t re-use aluminum dishes because the aluminum will leach into your foods. I know my hands turn black when using an aluminum canoe paddle or handling aluminum tent poles. Aluminum has been linked to several different health conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.

[4] Sawdust – don’t toss it on your compost pile, use it to line your chicken cages or livestock stalls unless you know exactly where it came from because it often contains chemicals that were used to treat the wood. Black walnut shavings are toxic to horses – causing skin irritation, fever, hair loss and even founder. Black cherry shouldn’t be used in stalls either. However, if you know exactly where the sawdust came from and the source was non-toxic, it’s fine to use in your compost pile or in your flower beds.

[5] Meat and milk – shouldn’t be added to a compost pile unless you don’t mind attracting all sorts of critters to it. It generates very little heat while it decomposes and so it is not a vital component in a healthy pile.

[6] Walnuts and Walnut Shells – will release the chemical juglone which is toxic to some plants and vegetables including tomatoes.

[7] Used Kitty Litter – we actually put ours into the landfill trash when we still had an indoor cat. If you’ve ever dealt with used kitty litter – enough said !!

[8] Diseased Plants and Moldy Soil – may add fungi and bacteria to your compost pile that is undesirable.

Paper repurposed as Gift Wrap

Paper repurposed as Gift Wrap

[9] Heavily Coated or Colored Paper – While it’s fine to repurpose magazines, colored paper or wrapping paper, these should never go in your compost pile because the chemicals used to add the color and the gloss can be toxic. The ink doesn’t break down properly so these items should be tossed into your recycling bin or repurposed as note paper, collages or could be used as gift wrapping paper.

[10] Used Cooking Oil – The only sane way to repurpose used cooking oil is in making biofuel. Don’t add it to your compost pile because it can disrupt the moisture level in your pile or attract unwanted pests.

[11] Personal Hygiene Items – though this may seem like common sense, single-use personal hygiene items such as tampons, pads, tissues and disposable diapers should never be washed and reused, nor should they go on the compost pile. They have been contaminated with bodily fluids and are not suitable for recycling, reusing, repurposing or composting.

[12] Old Household Wood – If you live in a house that was built prior to 1978, most of the original paint likely contains lead. Don’t reuse old window sills, banister railings or anything painted when the house was built in any of your repurposing projects. Don’t burn them, either. Just send them to the dump.

I admit I am “liberal” about putting “organics” into our “waste pile” but then it is NOT your conventional compost pile. We are not very good at vegetable gardening, though we try to grow a few cherry tomatoes each year and sometimes get more ambitious. Even though I don’t make a good example of being able to say I adhere to all of the suggestions above, I still think they are good ones !!

Reuse Reduce Recycle finger grass

~ Information Resources

City Museum, St Louis MO – http://www.citymuseum.org/

City Museum – Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Museum

repurposedMaterials – it’s all about creative Re-Use – http://www.repurposedmaterialsinc.com/

“12 Items You Should Never Repurpose Or Compost” by Theresa Crouse posted June 30, 2015 at Survivopedia.com – http://www.survivopedia.com/never-repurpose-or-compost/#

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

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Unavoidably Cynical

BPA Free is a load of BS

One would think that common sense could have eliminated this possibility before it even got started. Seeing so many acquaintances receive a cancer diagnosis and watching some of those die, I have come to believe that the excessive number of man-made chemicals that now dominate our environment plays at least some role in what seems like ever increasing numbers of people thus afflicted. A Science News article from April 4, 2015 caught my eye as I was wondering what I might write about today. The headline read –

“Doubts grow over BPA replacement – Bisphenol S poses the same health risks, researchers suggest” by Beth Mole in the Earth & Environment section.

The illustration that accompanies the article compares the two noting their similar chemical structure and that both have the SAME hormone-disrupting effects on animal cells.

BPA BPS comparison

So manufacturers have been able to honestly claim “BPA FREE” but that reassurance seems to have been deceptively unfair to consumers. One would think the chemists should have known better. I simply am not able to trust the chemical industry in general any more. Of course, I know chemicals are important and necessary and that some are even “natural” and “organic” (and I can “trust” those to be what they are at least). Just this past week I posted a reply from my Missouri R Senator Roy Blunt that was mighty slow in coming, and as politicians are wont to do uses a lot of words that look good but don’t really say all that much, as a comment on another blog here – “What Happened to Good Intentions ?” published here on Feb 2nd of this year.

BPA Free Seal

The author of the Science News piece concludes that “Chemical tweaks aren’t enough to tame a possibly dangerous component of plastics, two new studies suggest”. The difference between BPA and BPS are in how the ring structures are linked together – by a carbon atom attached to two methyl groups for BPA and by a sulfur atom attached to two oxygen atoms for BPS. BPS has been used as a replacement for BPA in paper receipts since concerns about cashiers and waiters handling these so frequently arose. Regrettably, even back in 2012, 81% of people who were tested had detectable amounts of BPS in their urine.

Most likely it was the least expensive approach to growing consumer boycott’s of containers using BPA. One of the studies goes so far as to admit – “. . . products labeled ‘BPA-free’, such as baby bottles, are not as free of health risks as consumer might expect.” What’s there to worry about ? Researchers found that BPS, just like BPA, can boost heart rates and spur irregular heartbeats in female rats. Heart cells in male rats block certain estrogen signals – it’s known if that would hold true with humans. A pharmacologist involved in the heart study commented that the two chemicals “are nearly indistinguishable, if not identical”, in their effects.

A separate study found that BPS, just like BPA, can alter brain development and behavior in zebrafish. Embryonic fish exposed to levels of BPS similar to the low levels of BPA found in nearby waterways were hyperactive and zooming around their tanks in circles. BPA exposure in humans has been linked to behavioral changes that include hyperactivity.

Previous reports had already reported the same estrogen mimicking effects with BPS as with BPA in both humans and other animals. Three years ago Mercola.com published warnings about BPS in an article posted online (see Information Resources at the end of this blog). While the potential human health hazards of BPS’s estrogen-mimicking effects remain unknown – BPA has been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, infertility, neurological problems and asthma. And there is more troubling news – even though the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA in baby bottles in 2012, there are few other restrictions on its use in the United States and the use of BPS is not restricted at all at this time.

Without naming BPS, the Environmental Defense Fund notes on its “Four Reasons ‘BPA-free’ won’t protect you” page – “When BPA is removed, it’s often replaced with a similarly dangerous chemical. This is known as ‘regrettable substitution’, and there’s no one charged with ensuring replacements are any safer.” And the EDF goes on to note – “Regrettable substitution is a problem not just for BPA, but thousands of chemicals.” because “. . . the Toxic Substances Control Act, is nearly 40 years old and ineffective. Unlike prescription drugs, companies can sell and use chemicals without showing they’re safe.” You can sign a petition about that at the link for the EDF in the Information Resources section at the end of this blog.

Tomatoes in Amber Glass

Dr Mercola suggested – “If you’re interested in avoiding any number of chemical toxins leaching into your food and beverages, choose glass over plastic, especially when it comes to products that will come into contact with food or beverages, or those intended for pregnant women, infants and children. This applies to canned goods as well, which are a major source of BPA (and possibly other chemicals) exposure, so whenever you can, choose jarred goods over canned goods, or opt for fresh instead. Another good idea is to ditch plastic teething toys for your little ones and choose natural wood or fabric varieties instead.”

Another possibility is to buy as much as you can in aseptic packaging. Tetra Pak offers a diagram of their package materials, very simple like “basic ingredients” – polyethylene, aluminum and paperboard.

Tetra Pak diagram

Tetra Pak diagram

Dr Mercola did admit – “To be fair, you probably can no longer completely eliminate your exposure to BPA, BPS and similar toxins (since they’re likely in our air, water, and food, too) but you can certainly reduce your exposure dramatically by making informed choices like those described above.” Remember – back in 2012, 81% of those tested were already “positive” for the presence of both BPA and BPS – sadly.

~ Information Resources

“Doubts grow over BPA replacement – Bisphenol S poses the same health risks, researchers suggest” by Beth Mole posted March 9, 2015 at ScienceNews.org – https://www.sciencenews.org/article/replacement-toxic-chemical-plastics-receipts-may-be-just-toxic?mode=topic&context=65

“What Happened to Good Intentions ?” by Deborah Hart Yemm posted Feb 2, 2015 at What’s New in Eco-Materials – Exploring the Complexities of Environmental Choices – http://wp.me/p3XHLm-bS

“Four reasons ‘BPA-free’ won’t protect you – Plus: What you can do to make sure hazardous chemicals are properly regulated” at the Environmental Defense Fund website – http://www.edf.org/health/four-reasons-bpa-free-wont-protect-you

“BPA-Free Products Still Contain Bisphenols of Equal Toxicity” posted by Dr Mercol on June 20, 2012 at Mercola.com – http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/06/20/bpa-free-plastic-still-toxic.aspx

“NEW – Amber Glass Jars of EDEN® Organic Tomatoes & Sauces” – http://www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=191

Tetra Pak Packaging Materials, Aseptic Carton – http://www.tetrapak.com/packaging/materials

“7 Companies You Can Trust to Use BPA-Free Cans” by A K Streeter at treehugger.com posted March 2, 2010 – http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/7-companies-you-can-trust-to-use-bpa-free-cans.html (author’s comment – I’m not sure that “trust” is an appropriate word any more . . .)

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

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Not Good News for Recycling

Bales of Plastics Bottles

A recent article in The Guardian reflects what we have been feeling for reasons of our own within our business. We are not in the first tier of the recycling process. We have been there in the past – actually bringing in bales of minimally sorted plastic bottles and paying our employees to carefully remove the resins that shouldn’t be co-mingled with the #2 HDPE resin that is our predominant feedstock (we can tolerate some #4 LDPE and #5 PP because our process is “forgiving” enough to handle that much variety). At that time, we actually were paying them more in “bounties” than their base rate without the inducement.

It has seemed to us that recycling in general, while happily still continuing to be utilized in many communities (ours included) to reduce transfer costs and the space required in limited landfills, is no longer given very much “public” attention. This has psychological impacts on the individuals who are creating waste. They may feel that their personal effort isn’t really significant or that the “problem” has already been solved without their input. Neither of these perspectives is valid. Waste and the accumulation of it are still an issue we should all be concerned about. Recently the Environmental Protection Agency announced that as of 2013 overall recycling rates were 34.3% of the waste stream and had contracted for the second year in a row.

The article notes – “Falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and a weakened Chinese economy are combining to make the global business of recycling less profitable than ever.” The article goes on to say – “Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise.” This is not good news after so much effort has gone into changing a lot of individual behaviors with curbside programs. In the world as it exists today most enterprises that consistently lose money do eventually fail. David Steiner, Waste Management’s chief executive, stated this directly – “We want to help our customers, but we are a for-profit business. We won’t stay in the industry if we can’t make a profit”. According to Waste Management, and confirmed by other recyclers as well, “more than 2,000 municipalities nationwide are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.”

And it isn’t only municipalities struggling, Waste Management’s recycling division posted a loss of nearly $16 million in the first quarter of the year. The company has shut nearly one in 10 of its biggest recycling facilities. According to Steiner, “An even larger percentage of its plants may go dark in the next 12 months”. Even though environmentalists and conservation advocates question whether the industry is overstating a cyclical slump, a perfect storm of falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and a weakened economy in China have conspired to devastate prices for American recyclables worldwide. Chinese companies have also become pickier about the quality of American materials they purchase.

WM Curbside Recycling Bin

I remember when we had to do a lot of the work of recycling ourselves BEFORE we ever took our recyclables to the collection center. Everything needed to be sorted and I always made sure it was clean as well. Although our local center does still ask for some pre-sorting by citizens bringing in their recyclables, many centers and especially curbside programs don’t require any sorting at all (but I guarantee you that to make use of it all – it has to be sorted – before it is further processed). We pay a “bag fee” on transfer station non-recyclable trash. Maybe the collection centers for recyclables need to start charging a much lower fee for those items – perhaps half of what the landfilled materials cost to dispose of.

Contamination of the recyclable stream has always been a problem. Glass is a problem in automated sorting facilities because it often breaks and ends up rendering valuable bales of paper or plastic unsaleable. And the reality is – uninformed and untrained curbside program users often contaminate their recyclables with garbage – even if some of the items were placed there with optimistic good intentions that they had a residual value.

And there is an interesting market impact due to changes in the packaging of consumer products. Patty Moore, head of California-based Moore Recycling Associates, notes that “. . . what’s different now is that the material mix has changed”. The once-profitable old newspapers, thick plastic bottles and aluminium cans that could be easily baled and reused make up a far lower percentage of the recyclable stream, replaced by lighter weight alternatives like vacuum-packed bags for coffee and foods like tuna fish. Tin cans and plastic water bottles have become thinner. Many items such as soup and other liquids come in aseptic cartons now. Even the plastic milk jugs we depend on for Yemm & Hart’s Origins product are frequently replaced with that type of packaging.

Horizon Milk Cartons

And in the midst of all the bad news, there is this bright spot – an increase in cardboard turned in for recycling. More people are buying items through online merchants (we certainly do as stores are a long way from home and time consuming to shop at). Because of this trend, cardboard has doubled its volume in the recyclable stream. Also businesses that eventually process sorted plastic bottles continue growing and a processor that feeds an Indiana paper mill churning out 100% recycled cardboard has just recently added capacity with two new facilities coming on line.

Everyone should care about these issues. Anyone can make a more diligent effort to do a good job of recycling ONLY materials that can be utilized and keeping their garbage contamination out of the recyclables system. Like droughts or floods, the current economic situation could change at any time – oil prices could rise (though I’m not wishing for that out of terrible self-interest). The US dollar could weaken and I’m not proficient enough at economics to say whether that would be a good or bad thing for most of us. And one could put some hope in China’s tendency to plan far far ahead for the common good of their own people. Unfortunately, the United States of America does not tend to look beyond the next fickle election cycle and our politicians are unlikely to ever care very much about “trash”.

The danger is that we could lose the momentum built up over several decades with a short-term, profit-driven/loss-adverse mindset or even worse – apathy. The reality is that money still makes the world go round . . . environmentally we would be better off if quality of life and human welfare and protecting the world that sustains us were the values that determined decisions about what should be done and why. I don’t see such a sea change in perspective coming any time soon, not even in my lifetime, and yet I never say never and I don’t give up hope easily.

~ Information Resources

Why the US recycling industry is feeling down in the dumps by Aaron C Davis posted on 06/27/15 and reprinted in The Guardian online from The Washington Post – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/27/recycling-unprofitable-oil-china-dollar

Aseptic packaging details at “FAQs” for Pacific Foods – http://www.pacificfoods.com/about-pages/faqs

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

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Not Business As Usual

Got Ethics

Picking up on a theme from last week’s essay and the behavior of Corporations who’s only focus is profits to funnel to stockholders (and having just last night watched the movie Barbarians at the Gates about the debacle of the Leveraged Buy Out of RJR Nabisco by Kolberg Kravitz Roberts & Co and having read a 15 yr post-mortem on the results of that unbelievable but true story by the co-author of the book by the same title – which is NOT a pretty picture), I wanted to focus this week on a few shining stars of business that I have personal experience with.

Recently, we received the kind attentions of a hired writer who created a word picture of our business for our profile page at the Green Home website. It was accurate and also a bit of fun to read how another person might describe us. We have been involved with Green Home located physically in San Francisco CA since the year 2000 around the time of its founding by Lawrence Comras. One may view him as the true entrepreneurial spirit – good at getting an enterprise up and running but not able to remain in management for the long run. Not everyone is cut out for it and that was also a theme from last night’s movie regarding the CEO at the time of the LBO of RJR.

Before our oldest son was born 15 years ago, we thought about dropping the minor consumer products our business was offering – key tags, picture frames, cutting boards and clipboards. After the birth of our oldest son, we thought as business owners of a small business that perhaps this little sideline of ours might make a good “starter” business for our son to learn within. We began funneling all revenues from these products as “royalties” to an account for our son. These products have never been what truly pay our bills or support our family.

greenhome-logo

So although it has been somewhat minor, working with Green Home has been a pleasure. Recently, there has been fresh energy pouring into their efforts to be a “useful” company and so in addition to “selling” products for revenue, they have a new interest in learning about the companies that supply those products and also offer visitors to their website a link to Info About Green Living as well as a Blog. Green Home says – “Our company is on a mission to green the world, one person (and one business) at a time.”

TCS Loves Employees

Another company I have a high opinion of is The Container Store. They have been purchasing our Origins 513 Tornado for the vanity countertops in the customer restrooms of their retail locations since 2005. At a link on The Container Store’s website they define “What We Stand For” describing themselves as an “organization with heart”. Among the categories there are Conscious Capitalism, Environmental Sustainability, as well as their commitments to employees, vendors, their communities and their stakeholders.

A company that I am fond of, even as their growth has made them seem much more “corporate”, is Whole Foods Market. The St Louis Galleria store employees are like family to me – though not all my favorites from their early days in St Louis (around the time that my oldest son was born) are still there – a few familiar faces remain and I like shopping there – especially for meat, seafood, bulk foods, gourmet cheeses (though concerns about cholesterol have curtailed our own enjoyment of these – what WFM offers is extraordinary for that food group) and produce.

WFM Produce

I have a copy of John Mackey’s book “Conscious Capitalism”. It is described on the back cover as a “bold defense and reimagining of capitalism and a blueprint for a new system of doing business”. When asked “Can change occur in the larger world of business and leadership as it has for Mackey and Whole Foods ?” he answers – yes. He says that his most enthusiastic audiences are business people hungry to hear that their work has a higher purpose: to provide value for people and the planet.

Another company that I have a high regard for is mentioned on the back cover of Mackey’s book and in 3 locations in his text is Panera Bread. We first knew this company as St Louis Bread, who later merged with Panera, but sometimes one still sees locations bearing the original name. Their cafes are clean, spacious and comfortable. They offer salads, soups and bakery items that include sandwiches. When we have to go to St Louis, 2 hrs north of where we live, we often go to eat at Panera because we feel good about the quality of food they offer. The company has recently embraced the idea fully that “people are literally sick of eating food loaded with man-made ingredients. So, they’re chosing to eat better, even if it costs more, based on the promise that they’ll feel better and be happy.” I read a full page ad/letter in Time magazine from CEO Ron Shaich. They have published a list of artificial ingredients that will be removed from their menu offerings by 2016, saying “Our food will have no artificial colors, preservatives, sweeteners or flavors. None whatsoever.”

15-06 Panera Letter

There are GOOD companies out there trying to make a difference and we should give these companies when we find them and discover that they are providing products that are useful to us, our business, voting with our dollars for the kind of commercial environment we prefer.

I have been grateful that for more than 25 years, Yemm & Hart has been deriving revenue to support our family by doing something I can feel good about everyday – making use of the materials that are turned in for recycling and using them to create “new” materials for use in the built environment on construction projects. Our ethics go beyond the business – for my partner, Stephen, and I have always been practical environmentalists that seek to live our lives in ways that leave the world a better place in return for our existence. We expect those values will be continued into the future by our sons, even when we are longer walking the planet.

~ Information Resources

100% Recycled Cutting Boards sold at Green Home – http://www.greenhome.com/100-recycled-plastic-cutting-board.html

100% Recycled Clip Boards sold at Green Home – http://www.greenhome.com/100-recycled-clip-board.html

Yemm & Hart profile at Green Home – http://www.greenhome.com/blog/greenhome-profiles-yemm-hart

“What We Stand For” blog at The Container Store – http://standfor.containerstore.com/

“Values Matter” at Whole Foods Market – http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/valuesmatter

Harvey Bishop interview of John Mackey for Science of Mind magazine May 2015 issue – http://www.scienceofmind.com/e-mail/archives/2015/newsletter_may-01.html

Ad of the Day: Panera Gets Into Lifestyle Branding With Manifesto About Healthy Living posted June 15, 2015 in Adweek by Andrew McMains – http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/ad-day-panera-gets-lifestyle-branding-manifesto-about-healthy-living-165330

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

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