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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Facing Up to Climate Change

Bear Glacier Alaska

It is unfortunate that the first alarms about changes in the planetary climate were labeled Global Warming because it gave too much to climate change deniers to loudly proclaim the science faulty. However, climate change affects us all and we might as well face up to what it will mean to who, how and where. I’m not Catholic but I really like the current Pope Francis. He is a gutsy guy and humble too. I believe he truly is living his life in service to the common man and that is rare in anyone with power in our world today.

In December 2015, Paris will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference. According to the organizing committee, the objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. (I won’t hold my breath on that achievement but it is a worthy goal.)

Pope Francis  ~ photo by Franco Origlia for Getty Images

Pope Francis
~ photo by Franco Origlia for Getty Images

In advance of that conference, Pope Francis has issued an official encyclical titled “On Care for Our Common Home” which makes explicit the connection between climate change and the oppression of the poorest and most vulnerable in our human family. Wired.com describes it as “… well-argued, clear, at times quite moving…and 42,000 words long”. I am indebted to their science writers for highlighting the “good stuff”. I have long argued that “the Earth” doesn’t need saving but that humankind does. That is really the issue here.

I agree that too many modern people have totally lost any connection with the natural world. I have to remind myself at times that the majority of urban dwellers do not experience the wildness of nature on a daily basis as I and my husband and children are fortunate enough to have right outside the door of our home. That loss of connection deceives people into thinking of their lives as something separate from and superior to the natural world and from that point onward, arrogance begins to inform choices that actually matter.

Blog author, Deborah Yemm, with sons Simeon and Treston out in the wild

Blog author, Deborah Yemm, with sons Simeon and Treston out in the wild

My husband and I recently watched a documentary about The Corporation. I am well aware that these large organizations also employ a lot of people at a time when employment is an issue due to advances in technology that have made obsolete many of the ways that people have previously provided for their families. I commend enlightened leaders of such corporations, like Ray Anderson the CEO of Interface a flooring manufacturer who came to realize the way that companies such as his have been “exploiters”. Awareness is an important first step towards making meaningful changes.

So it is that Pope Francis has recognized that without awe and wonder for nature and the environment human beings become voracious consumers and ruthless exploiters who are unable to delay the gratification of their every desire or even set any kind of limits on their immediate needs in awareness of the limits that exist regarding natural resources. It is not possible to draw boundaries on the global environment – the air and water circulate freely among all people and cannot be truly “owned” (though some have tried to do this) by any individual, country or organization.

Scientists were not entirely wrong that there has been some global warming. One need only compare old photographs of glaciers with the same geographical regions to see the truth. The melting of ice on our planet is causing the sea level to rise. This is simply the natural behavior of water anywhere as it changes state. It is clear that water is going to be a huge issue for humanity going forward. The Pope declares in his memo that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights”.

Every person on this planet is affected by climate change in one way or another. The biggest problem for humanity will be the intensity of events whether they are droughts or floods. And adding to the realities of climate change are the burdens of increasing population so that intensive agriculture in places like California and other dry or desert type environments in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are depleting aquifers at an unsustainable rate for there is no “recharge” to keep them filled. One cannot simply use resources in an unsustainable manner and not eventually hit the brick wall where it all stops.

California Drought

My family enjoys eating many of the foods that California provides to the world. The farmers in California use 80% of the state’s water resources. Almonds which my family enjoys raw or as Almond Butter because the nut is one of the more nutritious choices we can make have received a lot of attention for how much water growing them consumes but that is not all that California produces. Believe in eating your vegetables especially in healthy salads ? It is quite likely that your lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Lately my family has been enjoying seasonal fruits like peaches and plums. Yes, California grows those too. Do you enjoy the occasional artichoke or regularly eat asparagus and broccoli ? The drought in California has direct impacts on people’s efforts to be healthy.

The Pope rightly sees “science and technology are wonderful products of God-given human creativity”. Human beings ARE part of nature too. What humans beings do cannot be separated from the Earth and that is the point really. The Pope also sees a need for “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint”. I certainly don’t disagree.

In Wired.com’s summary of the Pope’s Memo they note – “When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of ‘might is right’ has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all.”

“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.”

~ Information Resources

2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference

The Pope’s Memo on Climate Change Is a Mind-Blower – http://www.wired.com/2015/06/popes-memo-climate-change-mind-blower/

California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System by Natasha Geiling posted on May 5, 2015 – http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/05/3646965/california-drought-and-agriculture-explainer/

Interface is a worldwide leader in design, production and sales of environmentally-responsible modular carpet for the commercial, institutional, and residential markets – http://www.interfaceglobal.com/

The Corporation, a documentary – http://www.thecorporation.com/

***

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

***


Safe Enough for Child’s Play

Boy with PET Water Bottle

Boy with PET Water Bottle

After my blog of March 30, 2015 “Materials With Some Concerns“, my partner suggested that I do a similar blog about our best known material, Origins, which uses High Density Polyethylene predominantly (with some Low Density Polyethylene occurring naturally in the “market” colors Milk Jug Natural and Confetti). So I goggled around and couldn’t find any serious concerns about Polyethylene except when it is PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) which we don’t allow in our resin feedstocks. Ummmm . . . what about my children’s water bottle ? Should I worry ?

While the Care2 article “Which Plastics Are Safe ?” noted that PET is “not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones”, I found conflicting information at the National Institutes of Health – Environmental Health Perspectives section. The report author Leonard Sax says – “Recent reports suggest that endocrine disruptors may leach into the contents of bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is the main ingredient in most clear plastic containers used for beverages and condiments worldwide and has previously been generally assumed not to be a source of endocrine disruptors.”

He goes on to say that – “The contents of the PET bottle, and the temperature at which it is stored, both appear to influence the rate and magnitude of leaching. Endocrine disruptors other than phthalates, specifically antimony, may also contribute to the endocrine-disrupting effect of water from PET containers.” He concluded that – “More research is needed in order to clarify the mechanisms whereby beverages and condiments in PET containers may be contaminated by endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”

And then, yet again, the PlasticsInfo.org website makes a strong case that PET is safe saying –
“As a result of advances in analytical chemistry, even the most miniscule level of migration from the plastic to foods can now be measured. Tests to determine the levels of compounds that have the potential to transfer from the plastic into food are conducted using conditions that simulate the actual use of the material. These tests have found that the migration of any components of PET plastics under laboratory conditions is well below applicable safety levels. Therefore, FDA has determined that PET is acceptable to use in the applications for which it has been tested.”

At Facts on PET – the Antimony question (“Don’t PET bottles leech antimony?”) that Leonard Sax expresses concerns about is answered this way – “Antimony trioxide is a catalyst that is sometimes used in PET production. Numerous tests have found that the level of antimony in bottled beverages falls well below even the strictest regulatory guidelines designed to protect public health. (See the International Life Sciences Institute white paper on PET) In addition, some resin producers are proactively shifting toward other catalysts that would reduce or eliminate the need for antimony in the production of PET”. The Environmental Working Group website judges PET to have a low overall hazard rating. Regarding Organ System Toxicity (non-reproductive) they note it is classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” and to have a “medium health priority”.

It can be difficult for an average consumer to decide – “well below applicable safety levels” does not indicate the total absence of chemical leaching. I would tend to err on the side of the NIH researcher . . . and if Antimony did NOT pose “some concerns” then why would the industry be “proactively shifting toward other catalysts” to reduce or eliminate the need for it ? Hmmmmm, yeah – one can be grateful for that !!

That’s about all I can tell you currently about PET. Now on to “our” polyethylenes . . . the ones we recycle to make Origins. These are the #2 High Density Polyethylene and some #4 Low Density Polyethylene in the “market” resin colors.

It would be pretty difficult to swallow our Origins material in the sheet form that we make it into and sell it as. If small enough parts were created that could be swallowed without choking or causing an obstruction the polyethylene would pass inertly through the digestive system. Actually, I wrote in my Feb 9, 2015 blog “Better Living Through Chemistry ?” about the fact that a form of polyethylene (Polyethylene Glycol 3350) is the primary “active” ingredient in the laxative Miralax that our pediatrician recommended for our son.

RRP at Concord Elementary

Origins has been used in a variety of child-related applications because of its bright colors and interesting patterns. Our material has been used for eye-catching exhibit pieces at several children’s museums including the Palo Alto Junior Museum in California and the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee WI.

Small Scale Construction System by Mark Frank for the Chicago Children's Museum

Small Scale Construction System by Mark Frank
for the Chicago Children’s Museum

The Chicago Children’s Museum even made interactive construction pieces out of various colors and custom specified the shapes they wanted for children to play directly with.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh by Astorino

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh by Astorino

It is no surprise given the highly colorful (inside and out) design unveiled in 2009 by Astorino for The Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh that Yemm & Hart’s Origins material as fabricated into restroom partitions was used extensively throughout. Wherever children play Origin’s bright colors stimulate their imaginations which is why our 523 Purple Garden was used for restroom partitions at Kid’s Quest for the Santa Fe Station Casino in Las Vegas NV.

Kid's Quest 523 Purple Garden

Nor is it surprising that Skyline Design offers two Origins patterns – Warm Orange or Cool Blue – as surfacing options to its customers for their line of children’s furniture known as Greenplay.

Greenplay Children's Furniture in Warm Orange at  Advocate Lutheran General Hospital by Cannon Design

Greenplay Children’s Furniture in Warm Orange
at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital by Cannon Design

During our years of doing Earth Day celebrations in St Louis, children would often approach me to ask if our Confetti color was melted crayons. We gave away hundreds of little samples and in subsequent years children would often come back to our exhibit just to show me they still had their piece of our recycled plastic.

Darin Wacs Toys

It is difficult for us to conduct the kind of testing that most architects and interior designers rely on to feel safe about using a product. The changing nature of the post-consumer waste stream makes it impossible for us to have a material as consistently and exactly the same from one batch to the next that original manufacturers of plastic resins enjoy. We use the best processors that reliably sort and wash the post-consumer plastics to yield a clean and dependable resin that allows us to offer our customers a 100% post-consumer recycled content material we can all feel good about. We know that our business’ longevity from being in the recycled materials industry for over 25 years as well as the obvious safety of milk jug plastic (High Density Polyethylene) offer a reassuring confidence for our customers. After all, a material that is deemed safe enough to touch our children’s milk is pretty easy to trust.

~ Information Resources

“Polyethylene Terephthalate May Yield Endocrine Disruptors” by Leonard Sax posted Nov 25, 2009 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854718/

“The Safety of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)” – http://plasticsinfo.org/Main-Menu/MicrowaveFood/Need-to-Know/Plastic-Bev-Bottles/The-Safety-of-Polyethylene-Terephthalate-PET.html

POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE – http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/704991/POLYETHYLENE_TEREPHTHALATE/

FAQ about PET – http://www.factsonpet.com/frequently-asked-questions/

Patient Centered Design – Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh – http://www.fastcompany.com/1351198/patient-centered-design-childrens-hospital-pittsburgh

Greenplay Children’s Furniture by Skyline Design, Chicago – http://www.skydesign.com/products/childrens-furniture

Kid’s Quest – Santa Fe Station Casino – http://www.kidsquest.com/hourly-child-care/santa-fe-station-hotel-casino

***

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

***

A special NOTE for those who care – the Environmental Working Group is requesting signatures for a petition that opposes the Udall-Vitter bill which they feel is a deceptive effort under the guise of “reform” by the chemical industry that will prioritize industry profitability at the expense of consumer health. They indicate that the competing bill by Senators Boxer and Markey is preferable. Go to the ewg.org “POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE” link above to subscribe and a pop up on the page will yield you an opportunity to sign their petition). I’ve filled out their form . . . and yeah, I signed the petition.


Let It Begin With Me

Earth Day tree logo

Earth Day was celebrated last Wed, April 22nd which is its official “day” each year. Some of the other suggestions for a name that very first Earth Day were E-Day or Ecology Day. I learned about this piece of environmental history when I listened to an interesting story about how Earth Day got it’s name on NPR and learned also that April 22nd was Julian Koenig’s own birthday as well. He died last year at the age of 93. In an interview, Koenig said – “Earth Day is one of the things when my children say what did you do in the Great War, Grandpa?” I can answer “… I named Earth Day”.

Julian Koenig was an advertising executive. He is well known for the Timex ad with the slogan that “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking”. He was also an environmentalist and was part of that group that was organizing an environmental teach-in back in 1970 (Earth Day is 45 yrs old this year). The group didn’t think “teach-in” was a catchy enough name – too academic and not action-oriented enough. The group placed an ad in The New York Times and along with that name “Earth Day” helped achieve an unexpectedly massive turnout of 20 million people. Denis Hayes, the campaign’s young national director, realized in that moment “…oh, my God, we have – we’ve unleashed some powerful new force now on American life”.

With the first Earth Day back in 1970 there began to grow within humanity a more intimate perspective towards the planet. We began to see the planet as a macro living organism with systems that mirror our human body. With a new awareness at the governmental level, legislation was passed to help clean up some very dirty air quality and polluted waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in the United States of America at that time to assist in clean up efforts and try to prevent future messes, similar to those we had responsibility for creating in the first place. Sadly, there are still way too many messes on this planet to yet clean up.

Both my business partner and myself “came of age” (graduated from high school) at the very beginnings of Earth Day. It was a time of idealist activism and so it isn’t any wonder that we are gratified that we can financially support our family with an environmentally friendly business. Our business participated in many, many St Louis Earth Day events back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today will be this year’s event in St Louis at Forest Park near the Muny outdoor theater. I am grateful that the event continues to be inspirational for both making good environmental choices and in supporting recycling in general.

StL Recycling on the Go

One of the featured events is the Recycling Extravaganza. This is being held as part of the St Louis Earth Day Festival on Sunday, April 26th. It is a collection event for hard-to-recycle items (while these are not the same materials that Yemm & Hart recycles, extending the life of all extracted natural resources is a very important purpose for recycling). Items collected at Earth Day in St Louis this year include CRTs and Flat Screen TVs (for a small fee), compact fluorescent light bulbs, Brita filters, medications (not for recycling but for ethical disposal), clothing & other textiles, building & construction hardware related items for Habitat Humanity, shoes, medical in-home care accessories, toys & stuffed animals, musical instruments as well as sheet music, and bicycles.

Within my family it isn’t good enough to simply throw things away. We also recycle everything that possibly can be recycled to keep from adding to the volume in the landfills. We have an awareness regarding this because our family business at the moment involves making new construction materials in the form of panels and sheets from recycled post-consumer plastic containers, automobile tires and industrial waste by-products. Because we live in an isolated wilderness we do not have a curbside trash pickup. We have to haul not only our recyclables into town but our non-organic, non-recyclable trash to the transfer station who then takes that refuse to an approved landfill (our local landfill having long ago reached its own maximum holding capacity). Anything that might break down in an organic manner is put into a composting pile at the western end of our back porch where its presence isn’t disagreeable to daily living.

Recently, I wrote about our family’s tree planting this year (see “Spring Planting in the Forest“). I discovered as part of Earth Day “global” this year that there is the Forest Nation event – “Pledge to Plant for Earth Day”. They say on their website – “It’s an old Native American tradition that when you take something from the Earth you must put something back. Earth Day 2015 will be a global Give back to Earth event, as an offering for all that the planet gives us.” This is our perspective as well – not just for Earth Day, not just for this year, but for always. We are in a multi-year cycle of harvesting trees (logging) for the purpose of enhancing the health and vitality of our forest. We have received expert advice to guide us from our state’s Dept of Conservation forester as well as enlisting the services of a professional forester to create a forest management plan for our farm. We are also in a multi-year reforestation project to return the open fields that were previously row-cropped or used as pasture for livestock grazing back into forest. We have planted many, many more trees than we are likely to ever harvest in our logging cycle. It will be at least 25-30 years before another such cycle will take place on our land.

GIVEAHOOTDONTPOLLUTE

I just wanted to highlight for this week’s blog that every person can do some small thing to make a positive impact on the quality of life on this planet. Our family participates in stewarding our local stream as a group that signed up for the Missouri Stream Team program in it’s very first year. Every year, we do 3 runs of 10 stops on each run, to listen to the breeding calls of frogs and toads as part of a state and national effort to monitor this environmentally fragile species. My family also picks up litter along our county dirt road that other residents and their visitors traverse. We have found that visibly picking up trash has resulted in less litter being pitched out over time. I suppose our efforts have some subtle or direct impact on the neighbors who drive by as we are picking the trash up and one can hope they are restrained by realizing that litter thrown out just makes more work for us. If I don’t want to come home with litter, I will even pull into a quick shop somewhere to throw it away in an appropriate receptacle. Our now deceased deaf uncle once taught us that litter on the ground attracts more litter. It’s like “oh look, there’s so much there already, a little bit more won’t matter”.

I know that creating a cleaner earth is the responsibility of each and every individual and that it is also the responsibility of corporations. They are sometimes myopically focused on increasing profits, raising executive salaries and keeping the stockholders happy. Those of us ordinary people who care about the environment must hold their corporate feet to the fire as they do not always feel such responsibilities naturally. So support your favorite organization doing this crucial work and make your voice heard.

We’ve had clean-ups here locally of the tailings from lead mining that were stupidly put onto residential land. I think that there were emissions that also rained down in the vicinity of the lead mines so that the yards at these homes have had to be removed and replaced. Such is the legacy of mining that led our region to be declared a SuperFund site. There has also been extensive testing of the children to check for lead poisoning here in our county as well. Fortunately our yard and our children are lead-free !!

We each have many opportunities every day to make a higher quality choice. Often we have a wide range of choices at any given decision point. It is important to stay well informed about environmental issues so that you are as free as possible of misconceptions and also don’t add to the suffering of other people by your actions. If I see some small thing that wI can do that would enhance a better quality of Life in the world going forward – I should just do it. I hope you will see that you can do some small things as well that will add up to big results of a positive nature over time.

Start Where You Are

~ Information Resources

“Julian Koenig, Well-Known Adman, Named Earth Day” broadcast on NPR on April 22, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/04/22/401540530/julian-koenig-well-known-adman-named-earth-day

St Louis Earth Day Festival
http://www.stlouisearthday.org/

Recycling Extravaganza at St Louis Earth Day
http://www.stlouisearthday.org/events/festival/rex/

Pledge to Plant for Earth Day
http://forestnation.com/earth-day-tree-planting/

“Spring Planting in the Forest” – posted at What’s New in Eco-Materials on March 22, 2015 at http://wp.me/p3XHLm-dP

Missouri Stream Team – http://www.mostreamteam.org/

North American Amphibian Monitoring Program – https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/naamp/

***

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

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Intelligent Materials

DEUS-EX-MACHINA-2

Deus ex machina is the phrase applied to the climatic moment in a classical Greek tragedy when gods would descend from the skies to resolve all knotty human problems. Right now, there is a lot of buzz about the new movie, Ex Machina. According the the Time magazine review “God, is the word that hovers over Ex Machina.” The movies that are made for our entertainment often reflect where our society is headed. The same could be said I suppose for the video games teens and young adults play. Turns out there is a video game named Deus Ex Machina and the 1984 Spectrum classic, which has often been hailed as the first ‘art house’ game, has been around for 30 years now. Released in Nov 2014, Deus Ex Machina:30th Anniversary Edition seeks to bring a cinematic flair to the original game.

The director of the movie Ex Machina, Alex Garland, in an interview with Wired magazine (April 2015) when asked about the debate around the ethics of AI research said – “It’s a big question. If you’re talking about nonsentient AIs, then there’s a lot to be concerned about. But if you create a new consciousness in the form of a machine, that isn’t significantly different from two adults creating a child.” A Science Blog posted at Huffington had concerns – “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”

Movie - Ex Machina

Movie – Ex Machina

Garland isn’t optimistic about the future of humanity. He said – “Humans are going to die on this planet. We’re not going to go through a wormhole to another galaxy; it’s just not going to happen. What will survive on our behalf is AIs – if we manage to create them. That’s not problematic, it’s desirable.” He ends the interview on this thought, the movie is pro AI because – “It’s humans who f**k everything up; machines have a pretty good track record in comparison to us.”

Yikes !!! I’m not entirely comfortable with the rapid pace with which intelligent systems are being implemented in our world. You can call me a Luddite but I do have some concerns. Over a year ago, during a trip to St Louis (which is a major outing for our family with a 4 hour round trip), it really dawned on me that maybe we are living the climatic moments of our own version of a modern day “Greek tragedy” and I’m not looking for any gods to descend from the skies (though I know some people still await the arrival of ETs, even now). I worry that we may be in a bit of a predicament. This anxiety began just after the movie Transcendence came out.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

My husband had been talking to me a lot about Stephen Hawking’s perspective on AI/robotics at that time. Hawking has some concerns too. He is Director of Research at The Centre for Study of Existential Risk. They describe themselves as “an interdisciplinary research centre focused on the study of human extinction-level risks that may emerge from technological advances. We aim to combine key insights from the best minds across disciplines to tackle the greatest challenge of the coming century: safely harnessing our rapidly-developing technological power.” Even so, I think it may already be too late to change the trajectory – that the genie is already out of the bottle and not willing to leave its freedom of movement into every nook and cranny of our world.

What’s new can be noticed in the research at the leading edge. The work ongoing at the Active and Intelligent Materials Lab at University of Cambridge in England boggles my mind. The active research is studying “adaptive responsive structures, including materials which respond to several stimuli: temperature, pressure, pH, ionic strength, light, and electromagnetic fields. While artificial muscles with higher energy density could be better actuators for robots, smarter actuators could also provide sensing to start the actuation, or even photonic switches for new optoelectronic computing. Recently, inspired by work in shape-memory polymers, we created multi-functional muscles which can be programmed to “remember and recall movement”. For many of these muscles, the goal is to improve function by understanding the detailed mechanism. For one class of muscles, dielectric elastomers, high voltage failure is a major problem. Our recent results suggest that they may be actuated at high voltage without failure, provided short enough pulses are used”.

“Shape-memory polymers . . . programmed to remember and recall movement” – oh my !! Okay, so I’ve not the background to judge those types active research and I won’t claim to understand all that they are doing there. The understanding that I do have tells me a transformation of how we experience Life here on Earth is already happening and the future that is coming would be astounding to us today. And I am not actually a Luddite. I appreciate all of the wonders that technology is bringing into our lives. If it weren’t for technology, I wouldn’t be sharing my thoughts and my concerns with you now. And some of the developments are astounding me today.

Kilobots (quarter-sized) may not be very smart but they communicate with one another. 1,000 Kilobots can be programmed to follow a few simple rules that then cause them to assemble into shapes without human intervention. Insect swarms in nature inspired the computer scientists to mimick that behavior with the inexpensive $20 a piece bots. What’s next ? Intelligent swarms of sand-grain-sized robots that form useful 3-D structures.

Robot Insect

How about an Octobot ? It’s design is also inspired by nature and more specially the well-known sea creature with arms connected by fleshy, skirtlike mantle. It’s arms and web are made of soft silicone and it is approximately the size of a shoebox. In tests within the Mediterranean Sea, it has been found that organic sea animals seem unfrightened by the artificial intelligence. The computer scientist who designed this hopes to use it to observe marine ecosystems by putting a camera on it.

Or how about search-and-rescue snaky robots that can burrow through rubble or use helicopter like propellers to airlift wheeled snakebots out of tight spots. And here’s the future for XBox gamers . . . the robot trio is controlled using an Xbox controller. Also in the same disaster area recovery realm are robots that use tiny explosions to jump, shoving the untethered soft robot off the ground so that it can navigate rubble that makes walking through an area difficult.

So many evolving uses for smart and intelligent materials and constructions from them that have the potential to be life-affirming and useful to humanity !! But I do worry – what will all the people do ? Already, a lot of people are unemployed or underemployed and technology is certainly one of the reasons, so more competition from artificial intelligence, ie robots, is just going to make matters worse. And I worry about remotely controlled warfare, like drones and satellites that keep warriors safe but not civilians.

iRobot

iRobot

As I see robotics evolving, what happened to me a year ago to cause a bit of anxiety was this – Suddenly, everyone I saw in “service roles” in St Louis (including road & bridge construction workers and Whole Foods associates) I saw sadly as “on the way out”. I remain aware of “possibilities”, whether they are accurate realities at this time, or not. My heart hopes for only good outcomes to our evolving technologies. My concerns were set off by reading a piece by Mike Adams about robots. Anyone who has seen the movie iRobot can easily visualize the future portrayed in this snippet –

“In my estimation, over the next three generations (about 75 years), we will see humanoid robots take over nearly all traditional labor roles in society, including manufacturing, agriculture, construction, firefighting, food service and even community policing. Most of the physical work done today by humans will be turned over to humanoid-shaped robots built much the same way we are: two arms, two legs, two eyes and roughly the size and shape of a 5′ 9″ man.”

“This, in turn, will make virtually all human laborers obsolete. There will be no more need for people to pick crops, paint houses, clean windows, drive ambulances or even fight wars. Humanoid robots will take over every repetitious, dangerous, disgusting or boring task that humans currently tackle, from cleaning toilets and sweeping floors to driving taxis.”

At Yemm & Hart there are no robots doing the work today. Our processes to create new materials from recycled resources are rather old-fashioned in their methods. We are gratified to make our living by recycling those items turned in by consumers to recycling centers in order to continue their usefulness. We do stay abreast of continuing developments not only in our own industry but as this blog has illustrated. We find interesting all kinds of topics about anything and everything evolving in Life whether it catches our fancy or worries our dreams.

~ Information Resources

“Date With an Android” review in Time magazine April 20, 2015 – http://time.com/3814972/in-ex-machina-a-date-with-an-android/

Deus Ex Machina: 30th Anniversary Edition Announced
http://kaijupop.com/2014/09/deus-machina-2-original-30th-anniversary-editions-coming-november/

Ex Machina – The Mind Behind The New AI Flick Q+A in Wired magazine April 2015 – http://www.wired.com/2015/04/alex-garland-ex-machina/

Centre For The Study of Existential Risk
http://cser.org/about/who-we-are/

“Transcending Complacency on Superintelligent Machines” posted 4/19/14 at the HuffPost Science Blog
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-hawking/artificial-intelligence_b_5174265.html

Active and Intelligent Materials Lab at University of Cambridge
http://www.aim.msm.cam.ac.uk/research

“Better than ‘Transformers’: Real-Life Robots: Photos at Discovery.com – http://news.discovery.com/tech/robotics/transformers-real-life-robots-110629.htm

“Robot swarm takes many shapes” by Andrew Grant in Science News Sept 6, 2014 – https://www.sciencenews.org/article/robot-swarm-takes-many-shapes?mode=magazine&context=188995

The Science News article below by Meghan Rosen could not be found in digital form at http://www.sciencenews.org.

[1] “Octobot uses webbed arms to swim faster” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014

[2] “Hybrid robot merges flier with two snakelike machines” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014

[3] “Hopping robot powered by explosion” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014

“Robotics revolution to replace most human workers in three generations” by Mike Adams posted on 9/30/13 at http://www.naturalnews.com/
http://www.naturalnews.com/042276_robotics_revolution_worker_displacement_depopulation.html

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

***


Materials With Some Concerns

YH in FS

We do not live in a “perfect” world but in the best circumstances each of us would be trying to push “what is” a bit more towards “the perfect” each day. When it comes to recycling materials, we often have to remind ourselves that [a] we did not cause the original material to exist and [b] keeping it out of the landfill and locked up in a useful application is the better alternative. Therefore, we continue to offer some materials that we wish were more perfect.

What I hope to do with this blog is simply share some of what we know about two material families with those who care the most about environmental issues and the complexities that should be considered. As with all of the materials that we market – it is the responsibility of the professional specifying our materials to determine the suitability of these materials for a particular application. We willingly do our part by being honest with you to the best of our own understanding about the nature of these materials.

Flexisurf

One of these materials that we are involved in getting recycled through our business, Yemm & Hart Ltd, is a PVC based material we call Flexisurf. We have this recycled material installed in our own bathroom where it has functioned for years beautifully and because it was “pre-finished” with a sealer on the production line as it was made – it is a dream to keep clean and looking nice.

As we became aware of growing concerns about PVC in general, we temporarily discontinued actively marketing Flexisurf but we would still fill orders for it with disclosure about our own concerns. As we worked through our personal feelings about being involved with PVC, we realized the point I made above. We did NOT cause it to exist and we do keep it out of the landfill where it could possibly breakdown over time and might affect the environment in some manner.

Why is PVC desirable ? PVC is strong, resistant to oil and chemicals, sunlight, weathering and is also flame resistant. PVC is all around us because it is an incredibly versatile material. Found as bottles, packaging, toys, construction materials, bedding, clothing, piping, wire coatings, imitation leather, furnishings and more places PVC third in both global plastic output and consumption. Because 57% of PVC’s mass is chlorine less petroleum is required for its manufacture than many other polymers.

What are some of the concerns about PVC generally ? Oil and chlorine are NOT what most people could call “green” substances. Their extraction, refining and by-products all pose serious concerns. One such issue of concern in its initial production is the creation of dioxin (and dioxin could also be released if the material is incinerated). Dioxin is one of the deadliest man-made poisons and it is a cumulative toxin. It stays in the body for a long time and can concentrate in food chains at the highest levels.

Another issue that has been identified with PVC is the use phthalates added to make it flexible. It’s often reported that no other plastic presents such a direct environmental and human health threat as PVC does.

FS Jet Coasters

So it really is the manufacture of PVC to begin with that is the issue of most concern. Recycled into the sheet form that we sell it as is NOT the real concern. Why ? It’s highly stable and not likely to biodegrade. Items made from PVC will retain their form for decades and the breakdown that does occur is into smaller and smaller pieces.

Recycling PVC is difficult and dangerous and requires special equipment to make its reprocessing safe for the employees of the facility and to prevent any emissions from entering the atmosphere. That is why only 1% of all the PVC created is ever recycled. It is likely your local recycling center will NOT even accept #3 (PVC) plastics from you.

Tire Veneer 10501 20% Green

Tire Veneer
10501 20% Green

Rubber is another material that we are involved in recycling through our business. We call our recycled rubber material Tire Veneer (for obvious reasons). Recently a few reasons for concern regarding rubber have come to my attention. I already knew from local history that making piles of tires usually culminates in tires burning and sending lots of smoke up into the air. Our Missouri Dept of Natural Resources won’t allow that practice any longer. When we are working at cleaning trash out of waterways for our state Stream Team organization, we are given financial assistance to defray the cost of properly disposing of the numerous tires that many people seem to think nothing of dumping into ditches, on back roads or into our streams and rivers.

Recently, some concerns have been expressed about the use of crumb rubber (tires recycled by grinding them up into crumbs) in applications where children will be playing. On the positive side the resilience and cushioning ability of the material had been the reason it was specified to benefit from its ability to help prevent injuries. The crumb rubber form of the recycled rubber material has been used for athletic fields, as garden mulch and in children’s playgrounds.

Taylor Bird Sculpture

As with PVC, there is more concern related to manufacturing issues than with subsequent use of the reclaimed material. Tire crumbs do contain volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOCs) with carcinogenic potential. Evidence of VOCs in crumb rubber has been extracted under laboratory conditions. Health reports from workers in the rubber fabrication industry and also within the rubber reclamation industry describe the presence of VOCs and some toxic elements that can become airborne. Studies at some tire reclamation sites have reported leaching of similar chemicals into the ground water. Occupational studies document potential health effects ranging from skin, eye, and respiratory irritation to implication in the origination of three forms of cancer.

Studies have been conducted that resulted in some recommendations that the use of reclaimed crumb rubber from tires should be limited when related to human exposure in outdoor applications. The summertime heating of the material could amplify the release of VOCs from crumb rubber installations. And there are advisories against using crumb rubber for mulch when growing nursery food plants.

What about applications for recycled rubber in sheet form flooring ? I sincerely appreciated the response of Cynthia Phakos of Koffka Phakos Design in Los Angeles CA on the US Green Building Council’s website (link in the Information Resources section at the end of this blog). She said –

[1] Recycled rubber flooring is very green as it diverts used products from the landfill, and is a durable, renewable material.

[2] There can be off-gassing of VOCs which could be harmful if one has sensitivities. These odors will dissipate over time into the atmosphere.

Her support for that application did note that various manufacturers’ products can vary in their environmental and health impacts and that some testing of rubber flooring material in a basement installation has proven it to be an acceptable use. She is correct in noting that “colored granules” are there for aesthetic purposes and the that highest recycled content would be in the solid Black variety. It is also noted that recycled rubber flooring has a longer life (approx 20 yrs) than vinyl or carpet products.

We find recycled rubber sheeting useful as a weed barrier and to soften concrete steps. We have also upholstered a hard plastic chair and drum table, both with good results.

Tire Veneer Chair & Drum Table

Tire Veneer
Chair & Drum Table

Life is full of complexities and trade-offs. We feel that both Flexisurf and Tire Veneer are excellent materials for their durability and ease of maintenance. And of course, we are totally committed to bringing you recycled content with ALL of our materials.

~ Information Resources

“PVC plastic’s environmental impact” posted at Green Living Tips on Jan 4, 2010 – http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/pvc-and-the-environment.html

“Artificial Turf: Exposures to Ground Up Rubber Tires – Athletic Fields, Playgrounds, Garden Mulch” posted at Environment and Human Health Inc – http://www.ehhi.org/reports/turf/

“Is recycled rubber flooring a green and healthy choice? We’re considering it for a basement living space.” at US Green Building Council’s “Green Home Guide” – http://greenhomeguide.com/askapro/question/is-recycled-rubber-flooring-a-green-and-healthy-choice-we-re-considering-it-for-a-basement-living-space

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

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Spring Planting in the Forest

Bare Root Seedling in Plowed Groove

Bare Root Seedling in Plowed Groove

I thought I’d share my family’s story as a way of explaining why I never got around to posting a blog here last week. My family has spent most of the last week planting trees. Back in 2002, we entered into a federal government program to reduce soil erosion and contracted to have 18,000 mixed hardwood trees planted in the riparian buffers of our major perennial stream. For two years after that, my husband mowed between the rows of trees because we refused to use herbicides to kill off the Fescue and that was the compromise we had arrived at with the government to allow us not to do that and still receive their financial assistance. My husband also walked the rows each year and hand-planted seedlings to replace any of the trees that had died with new trees. During that phase we added in evergreens and the flowering trees, Dogwood and Redbud.

It was during that time that I was pregnant with our youngest and we were searching for a name for him. For personal reasons related to his siblings, my husband wanted a name that began with “T”. We have a lot of awesome rock here on our farm and one day he came home to me after some hand-planting work and said – “I have it !! We can name him Tree Stone !!” I said no, no, no that is not a proper name and then inspired said, “Let us call him Treston”. And that story in why in some of our most fun and humorous moments we will sometimes refer to him as “Tree Stone” or “Plant Rock”.

Last year the crazy restrictions and conditions for receiving state government assistance to plant more trees caused us to abandon that plan after many hours of researching and planning by my husband because it simply did not make economic sense (it was going to cost us a lot of money that we did not have at the time) and the risks it entailed (having to repay monies received and even pay penalties on it) if we did not perform precisely as instructed were simply not acceptable. Encouraging us even more, was the fact that the contractor who was supposed to do that work for us, simply would not return our calls. It was too large of a project to go forward with all things considered. So my husband and two sons hand-planted 500 evergreen trees. This caused my husband to grow concerned that he would not live long enough to fulfill his vision of replacing our pastures with new forest with what remains of his own lifetime at such a pace.

My husband has been in the midst of this year’s project for months with lots and lots of planning in advance. We even spent an afternoon with an older man and his wife in a neighboring county. Interestingly, we first met this man back in 2002 but decided not to work with him because his values at the time did not seem aligned with ours. Now this year, my husband sought to learn everything he could from this man’s experience in machine planting trees. Not only did we visit him but several times my husband had long telephone conversations with him before we were ready to move forward with financial investments into this year’s planting.

P1040591

We bought an implement for tree planting. My husband modified it to make it safer and more useful for including our youngest son in the family project even including a seat belt for him. Beginning in late February, after we had already ordered and paid for this year’s bare root seedlings, we had almost 3 weeks of snow continually on the ground – first 7″, followed by 5″. We had lots of single digit and teen temperatures during that time and there was a very, very slow melting of that snow, immediately followed by a significant rainfall.

When asked about when I thought we should pick up our trees and begin planting, I had suggested to my husband that he not pick up the trees until this week. However even though I thought we needed more drying out time but he went ahead picked the trees up at the nursery last week. Now the clock was ticking against us for the trees need to be put into the ground as quickly as possible once they are out of cold storage at the nursery. My husband still made good use of the extra “early” days by doing some replacement hand-planting of the rows that he and our sons hand-planted during last year’s effort and also hand-planting 25 Cypress trees into a wetland area.

Suburban Stuck in the Mud

Suburban Stuck in the Mud

By Sunday, we tried to start planting Walnuts according to his plan which was to start in the bottoms near some of the trees we had planted back in 2002. The field was simply too wet. I immediately got our Suburban stuck. At least we managed to do all the training sessions that first day – mine for shuttling trees and water, my oldest son for driving the tractor and my youngest son (age 10-1/2) for managing the seedlings, handing the appropriate trees to my husband and telling him the moment to “plant” in order to keep a specific distance between trees and our son’s instructions included picking a “wildlife” specie to be interspersed after every 6 hardwood trees.

Springfield Planting Plan

Springfield Planting Plan

You can get an idea of scale by noticing the little house in the red square at the bottom left of this image. This is only about half the entire length of this particular field. We will plant the other half in some subsequent year.

My older son, Simeon, was in charge of driving the tractor.

My older son, Simeon, was in charge of driving the tractor.

Eventually the impossible wetness of the field caused my husband to give up on the idea of getting any more planting done other than a very tiny start we had made on Sunday afternoon. He’s a pretty persistent, determined kind of guy so giving up entirely wasn’t easy for him to do but the reality could not be denied. The drag of the plow on the planter in that mud would cause the tractor’s tires to spin even though thankfully the tractor never became stuck so that we ended up with a bigger problem on our hands. We didn’t even try to go out to plant on Monday but gave the fields a warm dry day to become more workable. Then, our oldest son (age 14) suggested that we really ought to start at the uphill part of the field or at least in the middle. My husband was able to agree to a Plan B to plant in the middle of the field but in an attempt to keep the spacing on his original plan, he went out and flagged the spacing for two of those rows according to the downhill Walnut row.

On Tuesday afternoon, we went out and started uphill from the middle with the Northern Red Oaks and managed to get through the Black Gum after about 4 hours as the cold wind and approaching darkness put an end to that day’s work. On Wednesday, we expected rain by 2pm for the next 48 hours and so we got an early start, expecting to have to quit early. The field was the driest yet and so we turned back downhill from the middle. Good fortune kept the rain at bay and we ended up being out there for 9 hours until dark. There were some light sprinkles that came but nothing strong enough to put a stop to the day’s work. However it did rain that night and was lightly raining on Thursday.

P1040593

So on Thursday, my sons and I were given the “day off”. My husband went out and hand-planted the “wetter” areas that gave us so much trouble on Sunday (the Walnut rows) by hand. He admitted that it would take many weeks for that area to actually dry out. On Friday, we got an early start – not as early as Wednesday but still put in 7 hours (working until dark). We finished the big field but still had a lot of seedlings left over, so we went to Plan B below for the excess trees.

Halcyon Planting Plan

Halcyon Planting Plan

By the end of Friday, there were only 300 trees left and so my husband and older son took care of them in about 2-1/2 hours on Saturday and allowed myself and the youngest son to stay home. These trees went into the field to the northeast of my deceased in-laws old log cabin.

Here’s the tally for this year.

Total Hardwood Trees = 2,350. About 200-300 per species. The mix included – Black Walnut, Black Cherry, White Oak, Mixed Hickory, Shumard Oak, Sweet Gum, Northern Red Oak, Black Gum, Black Oak and Chinkapin Oak.

Total “Wildlife” Species = 360. The mix included – Black Chokeberry, Black Locust, Eastern Wahoo, False Indigo, Flowering Dogwood, Red Mulberry, Redbud, Slender Bushclover, Smooth Sumac, White Fringetree and Wild Plum.

And another 25 Cypress trees in the wetlands area.

15-03 Post-planting Closure

The work is not yet entirely complete. As I write this, my husband is back out in the field on the tractor because we can’t leave the plowed groove “open”. The little rodent like critters would utilize that as a “highway” to munch on the roots ending the future of our trees. The diagram above represents the slow and tedious process as he uses one of the front tires on the tractor to close the plowed grooves. The dots represent seedlings in a row.

The long-range overall plan is to replant all the Fescue pasture that my husband and in-laws created back in the late 1970s/early 1980s in trees so that we won’t have to burn the fields to keep them open anymore. We will do that planting over about 5-6 years time in sections of about the same size or quantity as we did this year. By doing this intentional planting, we are modifying what Nature would do in returning fields to forest. In the natural cycle, Cedars, Locust, Sumac and Persimmons are among the first to take root in a fallow field. We have stands of tall Pines here that are described as succession trees, these are what grow next in the areas that once were crop fields. Later on the hardwoods begin to take hold. This cycle would create some marketable timber after 100-150 years of time elapsed.

At this time, hardwoods have the most commercial value as timber. We have planted a lot of hardwoods including quite a few species of Oak which do well and are native here. We are protecting the farm in perpetuity as long as there are descendants to live here as stewards of this extraordinarily beautiful land. Our sons will certainly be able to follow our Forest Management Plan which will have them in another logging cycle in about 30 years and therefore, they may achieve the long-term funding benefits for the continuation of this farm twice in their lifetimes. The trees my sons have been involved in planting may benefit them at the end of their lifetimes or will be of financial usefulness to their children some day.

Most people do not have such a long-view regarding what they do on the land they have possession of. I believe that is why it is somewhat rare for anyone to put so much time, effort and money into planting trees – they see no personal benefit in doing so. Certainly, serious environmentalists will always consider planting trees beneficial for the planet and all her creature’s health and vitality.

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

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