The Plastic Man

 “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.”

“Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.”

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

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

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

Teflon Happy Pan

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

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

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

Plastic Man comics

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

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

Ad for 3M Scotchgard

Ad for 3M Scotchgard

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

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

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

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

Environmental Working Group Section of Map showing PFC Contamination

Environmental Working Group
Section of Map showing PFC Contamination

~ Information Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conflicting Desires

US Fracking Map

What happened to all those promises that fracking was going to bring down polyethylene prices (they have risen significantly of late) and facilitate the re-shoring of manufacturing (where are the jobs) ? This statement is not to minimize my own deep concerns and reservations about the practice of fracking at all. These concerns are significant and serious. Should we build more nuclear reactors on the coast of our oceans in earthquake prone regions ? Anyone want to suggest that as the solution to all of our economic challenges at this point ? I doubt it. At least I would not even consider making such a suggestion.

Susan Freinkel in a article asks “Looking for another reason to worry about fracking? We’re going to bubble-wrap the entire planet with the overabundance of plastic it produces.” She notes that “weaning ourselves from the presence of throwaway plastics in our everyday lives may soon be harder than it’s ever been—thanks to the recent boom in shale gas, of all things”. She shares that “According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, new developments in drilling and extraction technology have opened the door for the capture of more than 2,000 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas—enough to take us, at current rates of consumption, into the 22nd century.”

Freinkel writes that – “Natural gas contains many of the vital raw materials that are used to manufacture plastics and chemicals. The new tide of cheap natural gas has launched the petrochemical industry on the biggest building spree it has seen in many years, with many experts predicting enormous increases in production of those plastics most often used in consumer packaging and single-use products.”

“This is the first time in more than a decade we’ve been able to talk about building facilities [and] increasing capacity,” says Steve Russell, vice president of the plastics department of the American Chemistry Council, which her article goes on to share “represents many of the world’s biggest producers of raw plastics and recently produced a report analyzing the impact of the shale gas boom. To date, companies under its aegis have announced plans to spend more than $100 billion by 2020 to build new facilities or expand existing ones.”

Plastic Consumer Group

“Most of the proposed projects are focused on extracting ethylene from the ethane contained in natural gas. Ethylene is one of the most widely used chemicals in the world—a key raw material for ammonia, antifreeze, vinyl, and rubber. But more than anything else it’s used to make polyethylene: the plastic found in toys and diapers, plastic bags and bubble wrap, milk jugs and squeeze bottles. It’s the chief plastic found in most consumer packaging. Not surprisingly, it’s also the type of plastic most often found floating in ocean garbage patches, thousands of miles from land.” Recycled polyethylene is also the material that our Origins panel product is made of.

With the growth in fracking, any “industry interest in developing greener, biobased plastics has dimmed. When oil and gas prices were higher, the major petrochemical companies were all busy exploring ways to make plastics from renewable feedstocks, such as corn, sugar cane, and sugar beets, as well as from non-food plants (such as algae).” “Anecdotally, that does seem a little off the front burner, compared to where it was,” says Don Loepp, editor of Plastics News.

The United Nations Climate Summit took place in New York City last week. The leaders used the one-day summit to announce plans by governments, investors and financial institutions to mobilize more than $200 billion to finance clean energy and support resilience among vulnerable nations. Several other U.N. initiatives were announced including efforts to reduce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas as well as plans to invest in cleaner transportation and a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. In advance of the summit, there were climate marches in New York City (upwards of 300,000) and other locations around the globe.

2014 People's Climate March New York City

2014 People’s Climate March
New York City

“What we can achieve through this conference is to forge a new model of development for the world,” French President François Hollande said. “There will have to be a new pricing system for carbon which will have to serve as a signal for the way we use it. We have to bring into play what finance has in terms of imagination and shift it to serve the good of planet. We need to define a new economy for the world.” France will be the host country for next year’s summit.

A surprising and encouraging statement came from Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – “John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum. We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.” Also encouraging is the stampede of institutional investors who are committing to expediently decarbonize and measure and disclose the carbon footprint of assets under management. Those making the commitment include foundations, individuals, faith groups, health care organizations, cities and universities around the world.

There is HOPE. Somewhere between such conflicting desires as rapidly growing economies with an appetite for more consumer goods (in India plastic consumption had already been forecast to double over the next five years) and the truly scary sides of climate change gobbling up the coasts where much of the planet’s population currently resides (and are certain to find themselves pushed to migrate even if the planet can keep the rise in global temperatures to no more that 2 degrees C by the target date established at the climate summit) is a balance that equals sustainability. I believe such a balance is possible to achieve even in the context of improving the quality of life for people all over the planet. I hope my optimistic perspective proves out. In the meantime, I do my part and try to remember patience, for even though the need seems quite urgent in reality, such changes in human nature tend to evolve slowly.

TShirt - Post-consumer Recycled to Polyester

TShirt – Post-consumer Recycled to Polyester

“Wrap Party” by Susan Freinkel at OnEarth.org posted 04/28/14 – http://www.onearth.org/articles/2014/04/why-the-plastics-industry-is-raucously-celebrating-the-fracking-boom

“Climate summit kicks off with promises of $200 billion for clean energy” by Michael Casey at Fortune.com posted 09/23/14 – http://fortune.com/tag/new-energy/

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

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The Spin of Truth

Ocean Gyres

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

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

Journey into the  Pacific Garbage Patch

Journey into the
Pacific Garbage Patch

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

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

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

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

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

ocean-plastic

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

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

Plastic Bags on Beach

Plastic Bags on Beach

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

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

~ Information Resources

“Study: 100 times less plastic than expected polluting ocean surface” by Steve Toloken posted 07/23/14 in Plastics News – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20140723/NEWS/140729965/study-100-times-less-plastic-than-expected-polluting-ocean-surface

“A Journey to the The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” – http://motleynews.net/2012/02/09/a-journey-to-the-the-great-pacific-garbage-patch/

“Choking the Oceans With Plastic” by Charles J Moore posted 8/25/14 at NY Times.com – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/opinion/choking-the-oceans-with-plastic.html

“Disappearing ocean plastics is nothing to celebrate” posted in the Algalita Marine Research Blog – http://www.algalita.org/blog/?p=4257

International Campaign Against Microbeads In Cosmetics – http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/

“California Plastic Bag Ban Would Be First Of Its Kind In The Nation” by Aaron Mendelson posted 8/30/2014 in the Huffington Post “Green” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/30/california-plastic-bag-ban_n_5740332.html

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

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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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Does Banning Items Solve Problems ?

SF Banned Sort Of

Perhaps. The effort to ban thin plastic bags and in some locations, even single use plastic bottles, is much in the news these days. I have mixed feelings about such efforts.

Back in Jan 2013, Concord MA became the first town acknowledged to have banned single use plastic bottles. It took activists, seeking to reduce waste and fossil fuel use, 3 years to achieve their result. A leader of that campaign was Jean Hill, a woman in her 80s, who expressed to the NY Times, back in 2010 – “The bottled water companies are draining our aquifers and selling it back to us. I’m going to work until I drop on this.”

According to the Ban the Bottle campaign – “It takes 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. alone. That’s enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.” Their website also states: “In 2007, Americans consumed over 50 billion single serve bottles of water. With a recycling rate of only 23%, over 38 billion bottles end up in landfills.” It does seem that university students at many campuses around the United States are embracing the possibilities, of living without single use plastic bottles. I can believe that the impact per campus would be significant.

Plastic Bottle Ban

Even Concord, MA – in writing their legislation, noted an exemption for an “emergency adversely affecting the availability and/or quality of drinking water to Concord residents.” Yeah, there are circumstances when EVERYONE is grateful for the influx of safe drinking water in plastic bottles. Personally, I also question the health impacts of steering people instead to carbonated, sweetened or flavored waters (which are exempted from Concord’s ban), when simply pure water becomes legally unavailable, for those moments of thirst while on the run and away from home.

Some people feel that such actions will ultimately result in less plastic building up in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Other benefits perceived are cleaner groundwater and fewer people drinking water out of plastic bottles, all the way to breathing cleaner air due to less pollution by the manufacturing and transportation of these plastic bottles deemed by some to be “unnecessary”.

Editorial Cartoon Plastics News Apr 21, 2014

Editorial Cartoon
Plastics News Apr 21, 2014

Plastics News, in the April 28, 2014 issue, notes that the city of Chicago is close to enacting a ban on single-use plastic bags. The legislation is expected to go into effect in the summer of 2015. Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports further negotiations, as the ban would only affect chain (a group of 3 or more locations with the same owner) and franchise stores of greater than 10,000 SqFt; but not independent stores and restaurants. It is noted that smaller chains and franchises are allowed an additional year to comply. Compostable plastic bags are allowed, which is a plus to my own thinking, and stores are allowed to charge for disposable bags. Several years ago, Whole Foods Markets ceased to offer any plastic bags at their stores, allowing only paper or one’s own reusable bag at check-out.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance definitely disagrees that this legislation will have no adverse impacts and notes that US plastic bag manufacturing and recycling businesses employ over 30,000, including 3,000 people in Illinois alone. Lee Califf, chairman of that organization says – “Comprehensive plastic bag recycling education would better benefit Chicago and preserve consumer choice.” We note that San Francisco enacted a bag ban back in 2007 and has since been joined by 70 other California cities and counties since then, using a mix of incentives from taxes or fees to bans. A statewide ban is pending. A recent similar effort in Florida failed. A similar measure charging a $0.10 fee on plastic bags is still pending in New York City.

Thin Plastic Bags

I do have cloth grocery bags that I take to the store with me and use over and over again. Sometimes, one decides rather impulsively to pick up some item at the store and at such times, the convenience of receiving a bag for one’s items is appreciated. I realize that bags may be convenient for stores to use to speed checking out along, however, it does not seem to require all that much more time, when the bagger simply puts it back in my cart. Then, I must re-pack it in the bags and coolers I have brought with me but I can do so in a logical manner that will assist my unpacking when I get home.

I prefer plastic to paper because I love trees more than petroleum products; though both are highly recyclable, which is why I question the efforts to ban these items.

Our family still gets a lot of both and we DO recycle all that we bring home. As to single use plastic bottles, they are convenient. In our family, we have both a 5-gallon returnable glass bottle on our kitchen counter and single use plastic bottles which we re-fill over and over again. I like that our water does not sit in the plastic as long that way but there are many situations where the plastic is the most convenient method of having pure water available. When out of doors, using plastic prevents the possibility of broken glass scattered throughout whatever environmental terrain one finds themselves in.

Our business doesn’t process bags or PET bottles; yet as a recycler by trade I know that, if people would just make a little effort, I believe a more “positive” solution than simply attempting to ban modern conveniences, would be a sufficient solution to this admittedly serious “problem”.

~ Information Resources

“Thoreau’s Town Bans Single-Use Plastic Bottles !” by Tina Fields, dated Jan 30, 2013, posted in the WorPress blog – “Indigenize!” – http://indigenize.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/plastic-bottle-ban/

“Plastic Bottle Ban in Concord Massachusetts – posted Jan 2, 2013 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/02/plastic-bottles-banned-concord-massachusetts_n_2395824.html

“Ban the Bottle” – http://www.banthebottle.net/

“Chicago close to bag ban” posted April 24, 2014 by Gayle S Putrich at Plastics News – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20140424/NEWS/140429925/chicago-city-council-committee-approves-plastic-bag-ban

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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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The Good, Bad & Ugly Perceptions About Plastics

3Rs Chasing Arrows
Most people are NOT as conflicted about glass, aluminum and paper, in quite the ways they are generally very conflicted, about the pervasive presence of plastics in modern life. We depend upon plastics to support our family, and we LOVE LEED, and we are not the norm, at least for the plastics industry. Actually, we are a bit out of the box, while being every bit as professionally oriented as any good business should be. We fall through a lot of cracks and for good reason.

Plastics gets bashed a lot. I even bash it a bit here. For example, the McDs coffee cup blog. Or the Green Globes fiasco blog. We aren’t aligned with “big” plastics, etc; but we are grateful that plastics help support our family. We are supported because we extend the life of natural resources that have already been extracted by recycling them into quality new materials for the building construction industry. We were always environmentalists but our entry into the recycling business sphere was timely, and for that we are grateful; because in our earliest boot-strap days, we got a lot of free publicity simply because we were doing a positive thing.

I do agree with one commenter on a blog by Paula Melton, managing editor at BuildingGreen Inc about the current LEED/Green Globes controversies on LEEDuser.com, when he states – “Supporters of green building, no matter their rating system of choice, should work together. After all, the next step by our erstwhile politicians will be to ban all green building rating systems!” We didn’t create LEED but we definitely have made it through one of the toughest economic cycles since the Great Depression, thanks to meeting specs and providing points to users of our material, in conjunction with their LEED certification attempts.

Actually, I am a middle-way kind of person. I know that most people are not truly evil and any business or corporation requires human inputs. And I think most people do the best that they can most of the time and sometimes they do really bad things in their own self-interest or because of some extreme stress or need. We all have to apply a lot of discernment and consider possible agendas with information that inundates us daily in our modern lives now.

Recycle Plastic Bags
Without a doubt plastic bags, such as one gets when shopping, and plastic bottles such as water and soft drinks are packaged in, represent challenges for our modern society. It is precisely because we recognize that, that we are grateful to be one “solution” to a huge issue. Not the whole solution and not the only solution by any means. One concern about plastics is that they come from petroleum production and there are not infinite sources of that resource. It took a very long time to create what oil we have and we are using it at a much faster rate than it could ever be realistically replenished. It doesn’t take a genius to realize there is some point when the resource may be less available. One bright spot is the development of plant based, biodegradable plastics. Yay !!

Recently, Plastics News (Nov 25, 2013 issue) highlighted the Global Plastics Summit. The Director of Recycling and Diversion at the Society of the Plastics Industry, Kim Holmes, was a balanced presenter at that event which took place in Chicago Nov 4-6, 2013. Only 3 slides into her presentation, she was acknowledging the “ugly” side of plastics. Pictures of plastic littering a beach, plastic bags caught in trees, plastics in a trash can, greeted attendees. I get it, just recently on Thanksgiving, someone’s bright yellow plastic shopping bag was decorating our dirt road (no, it was NOT our plastic bag carelessly allowed to blow away !!!)

Without a doubt, plastics suffers from a public perception problem when it comes to sustainability and happy acceptance. There is simply a lot of media driven attention on all the bad images, similar to what I just shared as well. Plastics have become a symbol representing the whole “throwaway society” mentality that many of us recognize is not sustainable. Wall-E anyone ? UCLA professor Maite Zubiaurre has considered the effects of such portrayals. “In ‘WALL-E’, you have an opportunity to enjoy a landscape that you would in reality never enjoy. It’s the hygienic experience of terror and dirt. It’s like the fun of playing with dirt without the danger.” I understood the seriousness behind the fun of Wall-E. Prof Zubiaurre contrasts the Hollywood version with a reality version and challenges her students to dive deeper.

Contrasting Images

Contrasting Images

It is also true, from our own limited experience as recyclers, that if plastics are properly managed at the end of their original life cycle, they offer to society benefits similar to what they offer our own business. There are a whole bunch of sustainable benefits, longevity being one of them. Bluebird houses that we made over 20 years ago of recycled plastic are still usable, whereas wooden bluebird houses that we put up only a decade or less ago are totally deteriorated.

Kim Holmes, in her recent presentation pointed out that – “Scrap plastics, when they are reprocessed, become an important input for the manufacturing sector”, and even if they can’t be mechanically recycled, they may still represent an opportunity for “energy” recovery. All of this without extracting a single new barrel of oil.

I have found, as Kim Holmes also notes – People “feel kind of good about their ability to recycle” (glass, aluminum and paper). “It’s a good, tangible thing that people can do for the environment.” There is a real business case to use recycled resins in manufacturing processes – they generally behave almost identically, compared to virgin resins. There can be color issues, we can’t overcome them in “natural”, un-colored forms, but we also do use plastic colorants and achieve equal colored results in using 100% post-consumer resin feedstocks, to what we would accomplish with virgin plastic resin.

Origins Yavapai College AZ

Origins Yavapai College AZ


The average person can help expand the use of recycled plastic resins by always asking for and looking to find recycled alternatives to the usual plastic products. For our business use, we lock up approx. 2,100+ plastic bottles in a single 5′ x 10′ panel that might be the wall in the next public restroom stall you personally use. That is a very good thing !!!

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

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