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

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

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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.

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Recycled Content is NOT Enough

In the earliest days of our recycled materials business, just wanting to do something about a problem was cause for celebration and we received lots of media attention because “recycled materials” were all the rage back in the 1990s. It’s nice to have such advantages as current “buzz” at the beginning of a new venture.

It was not very long, however, until wanting to be known for the quality of our materials was acknowledged by us as being more important than the simple fact that we were doing something useful regarding the quality of our planetary environment. Thus began a continuous effort at improving the processes used to make our materials. Thankfully, most of that effort progressed rather quickly.

So, it is easy for me to understand, why one of our country’s largest users of materials in general, the automotive industry, would be reluctant to use recycled or bio-based plastics. In fact, I’ve come up against competitors using such fears or concerns, to try and talk potential customers for our recycled plastics (in restroom partition applications) out of using “trash”. Well, no one who cares about quality is selling anyone else garbage. The recycling industry is justifiably proud of the efforts it goes to, in order to provide CLEAN, quality products to its customers.

Quality DOES Matter

Quality DOES Matter

Sometimes, such fears and concerns are simply an excuse or a ploy (as described above). Certainly, one needs to make sure of the quality of the material they plan to use. That could be said of any product or material, not applying such reasoning purely on the basis of something having been recycled.

So, okay, I can agree with Eric Connell, a senior engineer at Toyota in Ann Arbor, MI when he says “Using these recycled and bio-based materials is only going to make sense where it is the best option”. In fact, as a supplier of recycled materials, one of our constant challenges comes from that need to do extra processing, to reuse materials that have had previous usage in our world. There is a cost to that. Realistically, however, there is a cost to extracting materials.

We do not price our product to be below other suppliers. To be honest, we never consider that. In order to keep on doing what we do, we must cover ALL of our costs and have something left over to ride out cycles of economic activity, when they collapse as has been the recent experience financially worldwide. That said, we are not greedy. We do not simply charge however much the market will bear but only a modest amount as prudence indicates.

So, when a project is budget-driven, as Mr Connell himself admits is part of the equation for the automotive industry (defining “best” as “And that could be cost.” among other concerns), we may not get the job. However, we try to temper the budget-driven mentality of profit-driven decisions by offering “uniquely” appealing products, such as some of the color offerings in our Origins line of materials.

One of the motivators that CAN make a difference is increased “awareness” of environmental factors and costs on the part of the customer and consumer. When a manufacturer knows that YOU are paying attention, they get more serious about trying to satisfy you. After all, you speak with your wallet, with your purchasing power, and they all know that.

Toyota Lexus CT Hybrid

Toyota Lexus CT Hybrid

It is a happy thing to know that Toyota’s 2014 CT 200h hybrid Lexus uses 30% plant-based PET materials for the floor mats and trim. It is nice to know that the car has been so designed that 90% of it will be easy to dismantle and recycle (if there are places for those parts to go). The automotive industry is not only a high volume user of materials, they are the source of a huge volume of “discarded” material as well. Cars are not soda pop bottles !!

2014 Ford Fusion Energi

2014 Ford Fusion Energi

The Ford Fusion Energi, a hybrid vehicle currently in development by the car company, uses the same material to line the car’s insides as Coke uses to make its plastic bottles. The plant-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate) can be found in the seat cushions and in the door panel inserts. “PET is made by having two chemicals react together – terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. Terephthalic acid isn’t produced by plants but ethylene glycol is. That is the sustainable part to making PET,” said Anil Netravali, Professor, Fibre Science Programme, Cornell University.

Yemm & Hart repeatedly gets inquiries and interest from entities like the automotive industry, though we’ve yet to hit the right material for the right application to win big with the car companies. As Mr Connell advises – “The message is that you shouldn’t give up.” Certainly, we continue to do what we do in the smartest ways possible. As a customer and consumer you shouldn’t give up either – continue to demand the re-use of extracted natural resources, rather than accepting the “throw away”, easy way out, mentality as the “best” option. For in the long run, it is NOT.

~ Information Resources

“Carmakers want to be green, but need consistent material performance” by Jim Johnson posted Apr 30, 2014 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20140430/NEWS/140439994/carmakers-want-to-be-green-but-need-consistent-material-performance

“Ford lines cars with Coke’s plastic bottle material” at World of Chemicals posted Nov 20, 2013 – http://www.worldofchemicals.com/media/ford-lines-cars-with-cokes-plastic-bottle-material/6601.html

For quality recycled materials, visit Yemm & Hart – http:www.yemmhart.com

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

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I thought it was good-bye, but maybe not

I been reading for some time now, that the plastics industry is wanting to make changes to the resin ID code found on many plastic bottles. Not being a plastic’s engineer but a recycler, the resin code (those single digit numbers found in a chasing arrows triangle on many bottles) was my first introduction to the major types of plastics and the differences in their behavior.

Resin Identification Code

Resin Identification Code


Our business learned that PET (#1) and the PEs (HD #2 & LD #4) don’t mix happily and PP (#5) is better off left out of the mix of PEs but is highly recyclable. PS (#6), where found on containers has been as difficult to recycle as “OTHER” (#7), which doesn’t represent a specific resin nor any of the above. Some of the white solid Styrofoam can now be recycled, reusing packing peanuts has long been common.

Our business grew up right alongside the developing industry for recycling plastics and teaching at community fairs, state conferences and to school kids about looking for the resin recycling code on bottles and recycling them was how we paid back society for making the essence of our business (materials made from recycled content) possible.

Petronas Twin Towers

Petronas Twin Towers


We learned about the incompatibility of PP with the PEs when we became involved in a project for an oil museum in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, located in the Petronas Twin Towers. The designer wanted bullnose edges made from our Origins Cool Blue color material on the kiosks and these kiosks were also to be surfaced in that same Origins material. Carving out bullnose edges in solid PE would have been expensive and the resulting appearance, showing the inside of a panel of the appropriate thickness would have looked quite a bit different than the surface characteristics of the thin laminate.

There were three cabinet shop subcontractors but the bullnose edge detail made all of them nervous, for they did not have technical experience with the Origins material and its behaviors. So, our firm elected to do that particular part of the fabrication. There were 3 sizes which required 3 heavy metal molds. We set up a work space with an electric winch for hoisting the molds into a water bath, after the plastic was heated to softness on a silicone strip heater.

The nature of Origins fabrication is that it results in a conglomerate, rather than a homogenized material (which extrusion creates). In our curved forms, PP did not melt or merge with the PE and that is how we discovered that PEs are better off without PP in our resin mix. Ultimately, except for a few, what we define as “market” colors, we settled on a controllable, single resin process for creating the colors we stock and are the basis of our various color formulas. You can view some of the Origins colors at this link – Origins Color Chart.

For probably two decades at least, the resin recycling code has been crucial to the effort to recycle plastic bottles and reduce the load on landfills as well as extending the life of a petroleum product that gets only minimal use in its original incarnation. One of the issues was a misinterpretation of the “chasing arrows” that was initially used, which could be understood as indicating either that the object was made of recycled plastic or that the plastic that it was made from was recyclable, neither of which were factually accurate. It was decided that a simple triangle should replace the chasing arrow symbol on new molds for plastic objects.

Plastic Symbol Change

Plastic Symbol Change

Even though abbreviations such as PET, HDPE and PP are now fairly commonplace in addition to the familiar numbers within a triangle symbol, they do not begin to fully describe the complexities of modern day plastics. So, the ASTM International standards group is considering adding extensions to those abbreviations to further identify variations and characteristics within the seven major resin groups. There is a Resin Identification Code subgroup, which has had responsibility for the coding system since 1988. The Resin Identification Code was originally developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry, a trade group.

RIC Modification Chart

RIC Modification Chart


Some of the information that could be conveyed by a new coding system might be the melt flow, the temperature at which a plastic begins to melt and flow. Some plastics require a high temperature and some require very little heat. The process of making changes in the Resin Identification Code, which began in 2010, is not being rushed. The group is seeking consensus among its members.

Previously, I had the impression that the entire Resin Identification Code system was going to be abandoned; and I was concerned about how much educational value would be wasted. I do know that some of the base level plastics recyclers have brought a lot of technology into their processes to produce cleaner and more consistent material for use by companies such as ours, so that was not a huge concern, but more like a sadness at the thought of losing an old friend.

I am grateful that the ASTM members backed away from that idea, in favor of modifying the existing standards. I currently agree that more information needs to be included on #7 OTHER objects to allow for a greater possibility of those being recycled, rather than trashed in a landfill. In China, there are more than 100 numbers used to identify different combinations which in the US became #7s.

Any changes to the resin code will require the approval of 37 of our 50 states, because these have legislation on their books related to the Resin Identification Code. Even the switch away from the chasing arrows requires approval in some states. It is hoped that details will be finalized by the middle of 2015 but that time frame might have to stretch into 2016 because of the review process.

Even though the Resin Identification Code is definitely useful to the reclaimer there is definite concern that the consumer is not left confused by the changes. The cooperation of consumers in recycling plastics is important enough, that even though there is a need for greater clarification within the industry, the working group is also carefully considering the impact of any changes on environmentally conscious households and the momentum for recycling that is already active.

Happily Recycling

Happily Recycling

Information Resources –

2014 – Resin ID codes could get upgraded – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20140110/NEWS/140119989/resin-id-codes-could-get-upgraded

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

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What’s Inside Matters – Flooring IAQs

Breath Healthy Indoor Air
I believe that, now that architects and interior designers have greatly succeeded in tightening up buildings to reduce energy leakage and positively impact the external environment by reducing the burden of pollution in creating that energy, the current frontier for extending environmentally positive efforts, in order to facilitate truly healthy, efficient and sustainable building structures, will continue to address improving the qualities of the breathable air inside. What’s inside can not get outside as easily as it once did; and so, what is inside matters even more than ever.

At Yemm & Hart, we have long been aware of the importance of assessing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in relation to our flooring product applications. Over the years, we have consistently sought out the least harmful adhesives, sealants and finishes; from what is available on the market for us to recommend or supply to contractors installing our products. We are happy that healthier formulations of these products have become available, increasing the benign qualities, thereby making installations of our materials in flooring applications safer for long-term inhabitants.

Some of the best work in this regard has been occurring in Health Care Facility specifications because in those structures are housed some of the most vulnerable members of human society – children, the elderly, and patients who are immune compromised or have respiratory problems. As the demand increases to prevent health impacts from occurring, motivated in part by some of the reforms underway, I believe such considerations will be increasingly extended to include all of the places that people congregate for prolonged periods of time; which are most obviously – the places where people live, or work, or are educated.

PET #1 bottles for recycling

PET #1 bottles for recycling


Some of the chemical families coming under increasing scrutiny as noted by the EPA are 4-Phenylcyclohexene, Formaldehyde and Styrene in carpet products. In recent years, much of the PET (polyethylene terephthalate – plastics #1) that people recycle is finding it’s way into new carpeting (one square yard of recycled PET carpet keeps 40 water or soda bottles out of the landfill). Resistron and Permalon are two brand names. Scientists continue to study the potential impacts of PET on humans. In one 2009 study by German scientists, it was found that in some PET water bottles there are enough trace amounts of some chemicals to potentially mimic hormones, in the human body when ingested. In general, it is still believed, by most authorities, that PET is “relatively” benign.

In some public installations, such as national parks, PET carpet used in lobbies and other high-traffic areas has proven to be capable of being maintained with minimal effort. PET fibers are naturally stain-resistant and do not require some of the same chemical “treatments”, that most nylon carpets do. PET retains its color and resists fading from exposure to UV in sunlight and the usual cleaning standards in commercial practice. One reassurance is based upon the “source” of PET used in carpeting – which is FDA approved, higher-quality resin – due to the bottle’s direct contact with food products. Therefore, PET, even recycled PET, is considered superior, as a “greener” choice, than polyester when used in carpet yarns.

Wool Rug - Navajo

Wool Rug – Navajo


Though we are advocates of recycled materials, we also love basic natural products, when and where we can find them. Some flooring alternatives include wool but I hesitate to recommend it; for we have recently experienced issues in a preservation structure with the casemaking kind of Moth (Tinea pellionella, and there is a second kind commonly found, the webbing type – Tineola bisselliella) in antique Navajo wool rugs and some fur that was in the same area as well.
Tinea pellionella "casemaking" larvae

Tinea pellionella “casemaking” larvae

Other flooring alternatives include sisal, jute or seagrass for carpet type choices; and wood products, such as cork, to avoid carpeting for the most part. Natural fiber carpet-like products are offered by Contempo Floor Coverings and Natural Home.

Yemm & Hart Cork Tile

Yemm & Hart Cork Tile

When using natural carpet type materials, you may want to select pads made from cotton or rag, and not synthetics from petroleum products. Recycled PET carpet is also recyclable into some automotive parts, insulation products or furniture stuffing. Concerns are developing regarding recycled foam padding commonly installed under wall-to-wall carpeting. The nongovernmental group IPEN that is dedicated to eliminating persistent organic pollutants recently studied this material and concluded that 23 of 26 samples contained one or more flame retardants considered toxic.

What’s inside truly does matter, more today than ever, but carefully thought out, conscious choices do make a difference. Be informed !!!
Indoor Air Quality

Information Resources –

2007 – Indoor Air Quality: Materials Selection (Healthcare – Top 5 Green Building Strategies) – http://www.epa.gov/region9/waste/p2/pdf/IAQFinalOct12.pdf

2011 – The Safety of Carpets Made from Recycled PET Plastic – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=safety-of-recycled-pet-plastic-carpets

1995 – Fabric Insect Pests: Clothes Moths & Carpet Beetles – http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/ip/ip50/ip50.pdf

2011 – Raising Concerns About Chemicals in Recycled Carpet Padding – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/garden/tests-on-carpet-padding-show-toxins.html?_r=0

Liberty Carpet One’s GreenFloors.com website (products are said to be tested to meet indoor air quality IAQ standards as set by the EPA.

Go Green Flooring – http://www.gogreenflooring.com

GreenAmerica – http://www.greenamerica.org. – National Green Pages published yearly.

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

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