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.


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/#


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



The Greenest New Year Yet

2013 passing to 2014
It is that time of year, when once again we review the past year and consider what good was accomplished, and if anything was not to our liking and whether or not there is any way we can address that. At the same time, we turn our attention to the new year entering in and wonder what challenges and opportunities it will bring our way.

What are some of the eco-friendly material considerations that make sense today and looking forward ?

Recycled Steel is an excellent choice that saves trees and is more durable in the presence of high winds or earthquakes for building frames. Did you realize that a 2,000 sq ft house uses up to 50 trees in the framing ? The same building framed in recycled steel will use up the remains of approx 6 scrapped cars. In 2011, 2.2 million tons of scrap steel from cans were recycled. In construction and transportation products, there is a high recycling rate – 95% in regards to automobiles, for example. Over the past 50 years, more than 50% of the “new” steel produced has ultimately been recycled. In 2012, the overall steel “recycled” rate was 71%, compared to only 15% recycled back in 1988. Recycled steel requires 75% LESS energy in its manufacture than “virgin” or “new” steel would require, while reducing the solid, enduring load on landfills.

Bales of sorted, recycled metal

Bales of sorted, recycled metal

Another concept that is actually “growing old” (60 yrs) now is the idea of cast-in-place concrete walls that are sandwiched between two layers of insulation material. We have considered that for our own building plans regarding a subterranean shelter and feel that insulating the exterior of a concrete mass does indeed make energy efficient sense but are concerned that using the foam insulation on the interior side wastes the mass that could hold heat and cool over longer periods of time; and therefore, require less energy to bring up to a comfortable temperature.

To my thinking the whole consideration of concrete and insulation is an example of the kind of complex consideration that I really like to bring awareness to in this blog. Construction work with foam blocks filled with concrete is quick and easy in one sense but more time consuming in another. The work can only be accomplished in small bits, that must be allowed to cure, before another bit can be added in. Cold joints between these sections might prove an issue of concern over time.

In traditional concrete forming, it is true that plywood is utilized for forms but those forms are given the longest useful life that can be squeezed out of them. Meaning they are re-used over and over again. Personally, I have some concerns about embedding such inorganic materials as polystyrene into the environment, though that is not a total stopper for me. As to the insulation on the interior, it does complicate good, strong attachments for such additions as weight-bearing shelving. A plus for concrete is that is it is both re-usable and recyclable. There is no easy answer to whether the pluses or the minuses of concrete filled insulating materials determine a decision that remains both personal and still somewhat theoretical.

An exciting development is the plant-based (bamboo, hemp and kelp) polyurethane rigid foam developed by Malama Composites. This “new” material is finding its way into insulation, wind turbine blades, furniture and surfboards. This particular composition of foam has a high moisture and heat resistance, excellent acoustics and protects against mold and pests. It also has a higher R-value than fiberglass or polystyrene.

Fraunhofer Center, Boston

Fraunhofer Center, Boston

A living laboratory for R&D on advanced sustainable energy technologies is the Building Technology Showcase of the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems headquarters in Boston’s fast-growing Innovation District. This was a deep energy retrofit of a 100-yr old bulding completed in 2013 combining cutting-edge design concepts and historic architecture.

Cathedral of the Holy Family Solar Stained Glass Panels

Cathedral of the Holy Family
Solar Stained Glass Panels

Solar energy remains an important development in green building decisions. My favorite is the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, Canada (the city has an average of 2381 hours of sunshine annually) who had 1,013 silver solar cells hand soldered into their stained glass windows – how’s that for marrying the new to the old ?

Like the sun, the wind is an ever present, non-depletable and sustainable resource for energy. Wind turbines are an increasingly common feature in our planet’s landscape. Another method of utilizing wind is to provide nature ventilations to buildings to increase breathability, an increasing concern with today’s modern, “tight” buildings. One of the most innovative is China’s Pearl River Tower that pushes air through wind turbines to power the building and reduce the natural wind impacts against its 71 stories.

Diagram of Wind Flow at Pearl River Tower

Diagram of Wind Flow
at Pearl River Tower

It is said that fresh, drinkable Water will become our planet’s most scarce resource in the coming years, so the recycling of water becomes ever more important. One way is to collect and recycle precipitation. One such application of rooftop tanks on the Bank of America Tower in New York captures up to 70,000 gallons of rain and filters that for use in cooling the building and flushing it’s toilets.

A lack of connection to Nature can have damaging effects on the human psyche, so more architects and designers build “green spaces” into their projects. These may take the form of living walls, or rooftop vegetation.

Green New 2014 Year

Wishing you the greenest new year yet . . . .

Information Sources –

Fraunhofer Bulding Technology Showcase – http://cse.fraunhofer.org/5cc/

Steel Recycling Institute – http://www.recycle-steel.org/Recycling%20Resources/Steel%20Recycling%20Rates.aspx

EPA Resource Conservation – Steel category – http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/steel.htm

Cathedral of the Holy Family – Solar Stained Glass – http://www.saskatoonrcdiocese.com/cathedral/solar_energy.cfm

Huffington Post – “5 Secrets of Eco-Friendly Buildings” – http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/10/07/5-eco-friendly-buildings_n_3963834.html

“How Stuff Works – 10 Cutting-edge, Energy-efficient Building Materials – http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/construction/green/10-cutting-edge-building-materials.htm


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


How I Fell in Love with Cork

Wine Cork Stoppers
This is not a love at first sight story. No, when my partner, Stephen Yemm, first suggested to me adding yet another material to our product line, during the go-go days before the economic crash of 2008, it was the last thing in the world that I wanted to contemplate. I had a full plate. Both of my in-laws were going through cancer treatments. I had two young children in my home. Our business was going like gang-busters, so much, that the demands of my day, simply pulled me through, with only what needed to get done, getting done; and those things that simply ought to get done, often postponed. I remember saying to him – “as long as you don’t need me to do it, go for it.”

And he found a way by enlisting the sheltered workshop for the developmentally disabled in our community, which we had long been involved in the welfare of, and not simply exploiting them as a low-cost alternative. So, we were quite happy to share our incipient business with their efforts to provide meaningful employment to people who might have difficulty being employed otherwise.

However, something happened to me along the way and my passion was engaged – even though I was still thankful, the effort required little direct labor from my own self. In January 2007, I read an article in the Audubon’s magazine titled “Cork Screwed” by Susan McGrath and I understood the bigger picture that we were part of a support for. Her point was that synthetic and screw-top stoppers have been replacing real cork — and that it was threatening an entire ecosystem.

Alentejo Montados Forest
In the Cork Montado regions, cork is sustainably harvested only once every 10 or more years. Extra years are often added if drought is a factor. Cork Montados resemble the savannas of East Africa, with the wide oaks irregularly spaced in meadows of mixed grasses and shrubs. They occur today principally in Portugal and Spain and, to a lesser extent, in France, Italy, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

The author poetically describes the Tiradores (the cork strippers) as being “a natural part of the landscape. They flow from tree to tree, working them over the way a flock of songbirds does.” A good tiradora is a skilled artist, a master at what he does – cutting precisely through the outer bark and no deeper. Eventually discarding his tool and using his hands to pull the plank gently away from the tree.

Bonelli's Eagle

Bonelli’s Eagle

Ornithologists who study this region will tell you it has “some of the richest biological diversity in the Mediterranean”. And so I learned, not only does real cork support an indigenous and sustainable lifestyle for the human tiradores and their families, but the presence of this protected region does other very important things. Iberian mixed oak forests support the majority of Europe’s Bonelli’s eagles (now numbering fewer than 1,000 pairs), the last 180 breeding pairs of Spanish imperial eagles, and fewer than 100 Iberian lynx. Cork-oak forests across the Mediterranean, in Algeria and Tunisia, harbor some of the world’s last Barbary deer.
Iberian Lynx

Iberian Lynx

McGrath in her Audubon article shares with us that “Laws of one kind or another have protected Portuguese cork oaks since the year 1259. As a result, montado still covers 1.7 million acres here, mostly in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal. But it would be a dangerous mistake to assume that abundance today assures the montados’ safety in years to come, conservationists say. The slow-growing cork oaks are the ‘gold of Portugal’, a tirador told McGrath. They’ve been preserved because they provide an invaluable source of income for the farmers who own them. But 70 percent of cork revenues come from the wine industry; flooring, insulation, and cork’s myriad other uses barely pay their way. And now, increasingly, the wine industry is turning to alternatives to cork.”

Through the centuries, cork farms have weathered fire, drought and overgrazing; wars, revolution, land collectivization, and land restitution; ill-conceived agricultural subsidies, good and bad market cycles. What no one in the area anticipated was the development of alternatives to cork – synthetics and metal screw caps. Even though the cork region is still protected, that could change very quickly, if their value drops away. And cork and it’s financial support of local farmers, is not the only important value that would be impacted, if that happens.

Alentejo Cattle w Cork Oak
The World Wide Fund for Nature published a report in 2006 that laid out the economic and environmental impacts from a switch to cork alternatives that predicted that if trends continue, “three-quarters of the world’s cork forests could be lost within 10 years.” Cork harvesting offers a more sustainable and holistic model of extensive land use that is easier on soil, water, and wildlife but produces smaller yields than large-scale, industrial agriculture for growing food. The Montado farms have a traditional Southern European mixture of livestock, a few crops, hunting leases for pigeon and partridge, organic honey production, wild mushrooms, and so on. But the bulk of these farms’ income is generated by cork. If cork revenues dried up, this countryside, because it is pretty, sunny, and inexpensive, would attract wealthy urban Portuguese and duplicate the holiday-bungalow–building boom that has occurred in other areas. The presence of the cork montados prevents the desertification of Portugal and the march of the Sahara onto the European continent.

There you have it in summarized form. How could I not care ? By teaching others, passionately, about why choosing wines with real cork stoppers matters to a bigger picture, I am playing a role in preserving them and protecting all that is valuable about their existence. In 2004, our business began a grass-roots wine cork stopper recycling program. You can find details on our website at this link – “Recycle Your Wine Corks“.

Yemm & Hart Cork Tile

Yemm & Hart Cork Tile

While our primary focus in this effort is to create new building products – floor tiles or surfacing material – when requested, we consider alternative applications for the corks that people send to us at their cost (we do have plans ultimately to “buy” corks and support fund-raising activities but the economy has proven a constraint upon this effort reaching its full potential thus far). One lady, Cathy Gary of Coldwater Mississippi, is an example of someone that we have allowed to purchase some corks (we have storage and processing costs for the corks that we receive, even though we do not pay at this time for those materials). She handcrafts wreaths from them. In 2008, we bought a couple as Christmas Gifts for our mothers; and then, discovered that they were reducing clutter and expressly asked that we not give them such things.

7th Annual  Wreath & Menorah Design Competition  & Charity Auction

7th Annual
Wreath & Menorah Design Competition
& Charity Auction

The wreaths have sat un-used in the box they were received in until this year. One of our contacts, Color Art of St Louis, is sponsoring in conjunction with Steelcase and others, the 7th Annual Wreath and Menorah Design Competition and Charity Auction on Wed, Dec 11th from 6-8pm at the Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St Louis. So, we donated the two wreaths to that effort.

The Wine & Cork Connection

When people drink wine, They are celebrating life, They are celebrating their life or The life of family and friends, They are celebrating the life Of the vine and the grape, The skilled hands of the vintner. When the wine is all gone There often remains at the table, A small reminder of life. It’s the wine cork stopper. The centuries old solution To preserve the special taste Of wine stored in stone.

Why? that little cork is bark. Bark from a tree, a mighty tree. A tree that lives In just a few places, On our planet Earth. A tree that is endangered. If the use of wine corks declines, The magnificent cork oak Is threatened with being cut down, To make more living space for the Coastal loving people. Once a cork tree is gone, It is rarely replanted Because it takes generations to grow From seedling to cork bark.

When people save their corks, They are saving some of this life. They are saying that they want it to continue. It surely must have a longer useful life, People want to believe, When the wine corks are transformed Into something all may use and see, Awareness is renewed About the mighty cork oak tree. And drinking that wine With a real cork stopper Becomes a cause For even more celebration. Drinking wine is a celebration of life.


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