Good News for Plastics

It is often hard for environmentalists to love plastics. A realist however knows that plastics are here to stay. Lately, I’ve become aware of several pieces of “good news” for plastics thanks to the publication known as “Plastics News”.

Cyanobacteria Good Bad Algae

As with many aspects of life, there are good and bad qualities to things that exist in this world, including Cyanobacteria, also known as Algae. In an Aug 27, 2015 article titled “Researchers probe microbes for a future plastics building block” Michael Lauzon writes for Plastics News that “Researchers at the U S Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are tweaking cyanobacteria to produce ethylene through photosynthesis. . . . working with a specific strain . . . that makes ethylene when exposed to sunlight”, this sustainable process (if researchers can get its yields up) could mean that making plastics (ethylene) would also play a role in cutting atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide which is the greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. It just so happens that Ethylene is one of the chemicals this microbe makes when it converts carbon dioxide to biomass as it grows.

I find this exciting !! It may still be another 10 years before this research actually results in semi-commercial farms according to Jianping Yu who heads the research group at Golden CO. Previously, researchers explored a bio-based route to making ethylene from sugar cane or other plant matter. However this approach used lots of water in growing the feedstock plants and had the drawback of tying up land that could be used to grow food for a still growing global population. The new system works in both fresh water and more importantly in seawater, which is available in abundance on this planet. Happily oxygen is one of the byproducts of this cyanobacteria route. It is interesting to note that these ancient microbes are thought to have created most of earth’s oxygen billions of years ago when they were the dominant life form on the planet.

The new approach cuts the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere when compared to ethylene production sourced from oil and gas. Using fossil fuels generates between 1.5 and 3 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of ethylene. By contrast, the NREL approach removes 3.4 tons of carbon dioxide because the cyanobacteria capture CO2 from the air in order to perform its photosynthesis. Ethylene production is the highest volume petrochemical made on earth.

Mealworm Life Cycle

Mealworms are food for many living creatures including humans. Not that I’ve ever eaten them myself but I remember buying some to feed some creature we had responsibility for once upon a time. Mealworms are vegetarians feeding on fresh oats, wheat bran or grain, with sliced potato, carrots, or an apple as a source of moisture. I have seen them in novelty “food products” such as tequila-flavored candies which adds a definite creepiness factor. Mealworms are typically used as a pet food for captive reptiles, fish, and birds. They are also provided to wild birds in bird feeders, particularly during the nesting season. Mealworms are useful for their high protein content and are also used as fishing bait.

Now comes news that the plastic foam used for carryout food containers could become a new part of the mealworm’s diet and in the process solve a major garbage problem. It turns out that the larvae of the darkling beetle will actually feed on expanded polystyrene (EPS). The beauty of this is that microorganisms in their guts effectively biodegrade the EPS internally. The end result is that the larvae’s poop from this food source seems to be a safe product that may eventually be suitable as a soil product to grow more plant crops.

Researchers at Stanford University in the civil and environmental engineering department headed by professor Craig Criddle and senior researcher Wei-Min Wu in collaboration with colleagues in China have high hopes for its implications “to find a way to remediate current plastic pollution” according to Wei-Min Wu. Researchers at the Beihang University in China had previously observed waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths, break down polyethylene in the form of plastic bags because of microorganisms existing in their guts.

The findings of the latest research are also “significant because EPS ‘has been considered basically non-biodegradable and it causes pollution problems in soil, rivers, lakes and oceans’, Wu said.” “Microbes in the guts of the baby bugs broke down the plastic and converted some of it into carbon dioxide and some of it into biodegradable fragments, which were excreted like tiny rabbit droppings within 24 hours.”

The researchers at Stanford and in China plan to study whether the microorganisms in mealworms and other insects could biodegrade other plastics, such as polypropylene, microbeads and bioplastics and they will also begin looking for a marine equivalent of the mealworm. “This is early stage research,” Criddle said. “We don’t know where it will go.” Their research may develop powerful enzymes to degrade plastic or guide manufacturers to design polymers that don’t accumulate in the environment or food chains.

Plastic Bank

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the work of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based organization known as the Plastic Bank which is monetizing plastic waste to reduce litter, especially marine debris, while helping people living in poverty.

The organization does this through standard commercial channels but not with the standard commercial emphasis on their own bottom line. Individuals voluntarily pick up discarded plastic from beaches, canals or streets and then take it to a collection center for recycling. The Plastic Bank then pays the center above-market rates for the recyclables — some of which are being ground into flake and injection molded into containers at Plascon Plastics Corp. in Delta, British Columbia, for Lush brand cosmetics. Also based in Vancouver, Lush has a green policy to protect people, animals and the planet in the production of its makeup and toiletries.

What’s not to feel GOOD about business that is managed this way ?

In Haiti, an individual who turns in their collected items will then be able to get cooking fuel, internet access or cell phone minutes, all items with a real world value. So that in a poverty-stricken pocket of the world plastic is upcycled instead of finding its way into the ocean. Ripples of a cleaner and better world have a significant impact even though it is coming from such a modest undertaking.

The co-founders of the Plastic Bank – David Katz and Shaun Frankson – call their recycled feedstock “social plastic”. They are leveraging social media to create demand for their materials. They have a page on Facebook titled “Social Plastic” which now has more than 1 million followers and Twitter users publicly ask major corporations to buy it and to do their part to reduce poverty and plastic waste.

A visionary thinker, Katz is a fan of plastic and how it can go from a PET bottle to a T-shirt to a car component. He raves about its versatility and durability. He sees solutions in its ability to change form and be used over and over — if properly handled. This is what Yemm & Hart does as well – take cleaned and ground up milk jugs and detergent bottles and turn them into construction grade panels that can be used to make restroom partitions and countertops. Personally, I have thought of our thick recycled plastic panels like the gold stored in Fort Knox. By keeping it out of the landfill, it remains viable into the future for re-use. A single 1″ thk panel at 60″ x 120″ typically used to fabricate a restroom partition side wall uses up approx 2,200 containers !!

Origins 508 at Boulder Co

~ Information Resources

“Researchers probe microbes for a future plastics building block” by Michael Lauzon posted in Plastics News on Aug 27, 2015 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20150827/NEWS/150829910/researchers-probe-microbes-for-a-future-plastics-building-block

Mealworms info at Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mealworm

“Hungry mealworms may be the future of EPS recycling” by Catherine Kavanaugh posted in Plastics News on Oct 1, 2015 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20151001/NEWS/151009984/hungry-mealworms-may-be-the-future-of-eps-recycling

PlasticBank.org – http://plasticbank.org/

“Plastic Bank aims to reduce marine debris, help people” by Catherine Kavanaugh posted in Plastics News on Oct 6, 2015 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20151006/NEWS/151009927/plastic-bank-aims-to-reduce-marine-debris-help-people

“Social Plastic” on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/PlasticBank

Yemm & Hart Origins Slideshow illustrates applications for 100% post-consumer recycled HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) plastic – http://www.yemmhart.com/materials/origins/slideshow_origins/slideshow.html

The United States Bullion Depository Fort Knox, Kentucky – http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/fun_facts/?action=fun_facts13

***

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

***

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Helping Create A Cleaner World

Ecossential Motel Soaps

Ecossential Hotel Soaps

Sometimes the little things actually do matter. Take hotel soaps for example. One third of the world’s soap is used by people living in the United States. 2.6 million hotel size bars of soap are thrown away as hotel rooms are cleaned each day in the United States alone.

How often do you use all the soap a hotel provides for you ? I will admit that we bring home both opened and unopened bars of soap since our perception is that the hotel has allotted a certain amount of soap as covered by the bill we have paid. How about you ? Do you use those soaps and shampoos once you get home ? We actually do try to use them. If a natural disaster occurs and we are donating stuff to help the local people get by until they can get back on their feet, we might include a ziplock bag full of these if they have accumulated faster in our household than we have been able to use them.

I recently discovered the Clean the World Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization that collects from more than 1,000 hotel partners in North America then recycles and distributes these hotel soaps and bottled amenities not only in the United States but also in 40 countries abroad. The environmental impact of this effort has diverted an estimated 550 tons of hotel waste from landfills in the United States and Canada.

Clean the World was started in Orlando, Florida in 2009 in the one-car garage of Shawn Seipler, a sales executive. Never believe that one person can’t make a huge difference in the world. Seipler wondered what happened to the tiny bars of soap leftover from his 150 nights spent in hotel rooms each year. When he found out that the soap was thrown away, while children died around the world each day because they had no access to soap, he decided to form Clean the World.

Haitian Child with Soap

Haitian Child with Soap

By 2011, the foundation had collected, recycled and distributed more than 8 million soap bars to children and families in need in the United States and more than 40 countries, including Haiti, Japan, Zimbabwe, Uganda, India, Honduras, Mexico and Albania. Medical research studies have shown that simple hand washing with soap could help prevent hygiene related deaths by more than 60 percent, yet there are communities around the world in which soap is such a valuable commodity that hygiene is considered a luxury, not a necessity. Each day, 9,000 children around the world die from diseases such as acute respiratory illness and diarrheal diseases that can be prevented by washing with bar soap. These are the top two killers of children under the age of 5. Clean the World Foundation has a mission to provide soap where needed to help improve hygiene and sanitation conditions, to lessen the impact of disease, and to promote better hygiene and living conditions worldwide.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Georgia, Derreck Kayongo was troubled by his time visiting refugee camps, where illness was rampant because people had no access to soap. He partnered with a veteran hospitality executive who shared his same concerns about throwing away soaps at hotels and started the Global Soap Project in his basement. According to Global Soap, hand washing with soap can reduce diarrheal disease and respiratory infections because teaching proper hand washing techniques and providing soap is more effective than vaccines, medications or clean water initiatives alone.

It is estimated that over six years time, the efforts of these two soap recycling organizations have contributed to a 30% reduction in childhood deaths from hygiene-related illnesses. The organizations, Clean the World and Global Soap, have now joined forces in 2015 to work together to make an even larger impact on preventing illness caused by lack of proper hygiene. Clean the World now focuses on recycling the soap and toiletries at their three facilities in Orlando, Las Vegas and Hong Kong. They are the only high-volume soap recycler in the world. Global Soap is now focused on soap distribution and promoting global hygiene. The group uses local aid and non-governmental organizations to help with distribution and education, as well as sending their own teams into rural communities around the world to hand-deliver hygiene products and to teach residents about the importance of keeping clean.

Clean the World Las Vegas Recycling Facility

Clean the World
Las Vegas Recycling Facility

I bet you’re wondering – how is soap recycled ? I’m glad you asked !! In the beginning a Clean the World volunteer would “surface clean” the soaps. Now there are 3 industrial scale recycling facilities where the soap is ground up and sterilized to eliminate all pathogens and then pressed into new bars and wrapped. It is really a lot like the way that Yemm & Hart partners with facilities who clean the milk jugs and detergent bottles you recycle and then processes them into the standard resin feedstock form so that we can press this into new plastic panels for restroom partitions and countertops.

Want to recycle your own soap in your home for your family’s use ? “Instructables” offers step-by-step instructions along with color photos to guide you (see the link at ~ Information Resources below).

Old Soap for Recycling

~ Information Resources

“What Happens Next When Two Soap Recycling Programs Join Forces?” posted at Earth911 on Aug 5, 2015 – http://www.earth911.com/business-policy/clean-the-competition-soap-recycling-programs-join-forces/

“First Annual Clean the World Gala” posted on prweb on May 18, 2011 – http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/5/prweb8452571.htm

“How Recycled Bars Of Soap Could Help Prevent Illnesses In Developing Countries” by Brian Skoloff/Associated Press posted April 10, 2015 at the Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/10/clean-the-world_n_7042404.html

“Green Partitions – Successful Specifications for Polyethylene Partitions” posted at Yemm & Hart – http://www.yemmhart.com/products/partitions/partitions_success_spec.html

“Recycle your old Soap” by Gunk on Floor posted at Instructables – http://www.instructables.com/id/Reuse-Your-Old-Soap/

** PS – a word about Ecossentials Elements soap from Concept Amenities (image at the beginning of this blog). CA is serious about making a difference in the environmental problem of the 95% of the plastic used in hotel rooms ending up in landfills – where of course – they sit for hundreds of years. The company notes that the top 300 hotel groups in the world alone dispose of an estimated 5.5 billion amenity bottles and caps every year. Their plastic packaging is fully biodegradable in the landfill because it contains an FDA approved organic based additive that allows microbes to break it down. You can read more about “Mikey the Microbe” at Concept Amenities as well as additional information about the company, their values and their products at – http://www.conceptamenities.com/. Concept Amenities works with Australia’s hotel soap recycling organization – SoapAid (http://www.soapaid.org). CA has locations in Australia, the UK and Las Vegas NV in the US.

***

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

***


Not Good News for Recycling

Bales of Plastics Bottles

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

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

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

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

WM Curbside Recycling Bin

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

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

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

Horizon Milk Cartons

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

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

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

~ Information Resources

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

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

***

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

***


It May Not Seem Like Much

Thumbs UP Reduce Reuse Recycle

Believe it or not, there are still people who do not recycle in America. It has been almost 25 years since the three Rs came to stand for “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” yet our society is still producing too much personal waste. Despite lots of “buzz”, as a society, we are still failing to realize how much of an environmental footprint we are leaving.

I am an avid recycler. How can I be involved in a business that makes use of resources that consumers turn in for recycling and not participate in the effort ? It would be inauthentic of me not to recycle. However, I recognize that what “motivates” me is not likely to motivate the average members of a household. I know that individual efforts don’t seem like much. I discovered that other thoughtful people are considering the question – How might we establish better recycling habits at home ?

Concealed Recycling Bins

In our home, we make recycling fairly easy for most of the family members. We wash everything before putting it the kitchen recycling container because we do not have curbside pick-up and must drive 20 miles in order to leave our recyclables at the county recycling center. We may only make that trip once in a month, so we don’t want residue spoiling in the basement in the meantime. We have a divided recycling container (not the one pictured but similarly large enough to reduce trips downstairs) that allows us to put potentially “wet” items (glass, plastic and metals) in a separate bin from “dry” items (paper). Our bin has a handle in the middle that allows us to carry both bins easily in one trip down to our basement where we have multiple aluminum standard size garbage cans. We then further separate our recyclables into more discrete categories – plastic, paper, metal, glass. We do put our chipboard (cereal boxes, etc) into a paper bag and we deal separately with corrugated cardboard (piling boxes into other boxes). We compost EVERYTHING organic.

The University of Exeter conducted a study to explore the role that recycling plays in everyday life through in depth research and conversations with families in Great Britain and France. They uncovered a series of insights on how we behave at home finding that:

•Recycling is rarely a conscious decision: we just go about our busy daily lives and recycling may or may not feature in our routines

•There are often tensions in the home between recycling champions and those who opt for the simplest route to disposing of waste – and aesthetics win out over environmental concerns

•There is often confusion and skepticism among householders about recycling, which can often lead to apathy

Creative Ideas in Recycling

The openIDEO Challenge asked that question – “How might we establish better recycling habits at home?” and received over 200 creative ideas like the ones I have randomly selected below. The ideas I selected made it into the Final 25 but were not among the 8 ideas chosen as “Winners”. You can view the winning ideas here – openIDEO Challenge Winners.

Ideas I liked included this one was based on the question – “How much difference would one bottle make?” The common answer is “every bottle counts” but really how much does recycling only one bottle do? What if you knew exactly how much water, trees, electricity and CO2 you were saving by recycling that one bottle? This idea suggested an app called “Recyculator” – that could provide information on your personal recycling impact. The creator of that idea thought the app would scan the product’s barcode and then show the user those electricity, water, trees and CO2 savings as Environmental Impact statistics. Another app idea was named “From This to This” which intended to show the user what product their item could become if it were recycled rather than thrown away. I thought that this idea might help connect the user to the recycling process by showing this relevant information visually.

In doing research for this blog, I discovered an awesome website called RecycleBank that seeks to inspire and reward members. In some communities, RecycleBank members can actually earn points for recycling at home. RecycleBank makes that possible by working with municipalities and waste haulers. The organization also seeks to educate their members to make a positive impact towards a more sustainable future by learning how to make smarter choices everyday. They know that there is no single blueprint for a sustainable future, so they offer many ways for members to participate in being a collective force for change that makes a difference for us all.

I did a 5 image slideshow titled “The 4 Basic Recyclable Materials” and discovered that if the 10,000+ members of RecycleBank all recycled these items, one of the impacts would be 19,600 trees “saved”, still in the ground growing and recycling carbon for us all. I earned 25 points in just a few moments, with very little effort, and learned some new information as well, such as – an aluminum can goes from being recycled to back on the shelf as a new can in as little as 60 days or that paper can be recycled up to 7 times if it hasn’t been soiled by food waste.

Benefits of Recycling Tree

What are some of the benefits of recycling ?

• Recycling protects and expands manufacturing jobs and local competitiveness.

• Recycling reduces the need for land-filling and incineration.

• Recycling prevents pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials.

• Recycling saves energy.

• Recycling decreases emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.

• Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.

• Recycling helps sustain the environment for future generations.

Within the experiences that we have as a business that uses the resources that people turn in for recycling, we’ve noted that the economic stagnation now 7 years running, seems to have taken the “value” of using recycled materials off the table of decision makers in favor of the lowest cost. We know that cost IS important and that is why we do our best to keep costs as low as possible but the reality is that producing new construction materials from recycled feedstocks remains a low volume enterprise without the big economies of scale that could bring prices down lower. It also seems to us that a lot of people have “forgotten” about recycling in general. Perhaps they think it’s so mainstream now that their individual participation really doesn’t matter all that much. And even though it may seem like an individual effort is insignificant – it actually DOES add up. It’s easy enough to prove that’s true – just visit a landfill someday and see how much the cumulative waste of “individuals” has piled up !!

CtS21ft CamH3' 35mm 0001

~ Information Resources

openIDEO Challenge – How might we establish better recycling habits at home ? – https://openideo.com/challenge/recycle-challenge/brief.html

The 3Rs and the 2 Words – What Is The Big Deal ? – http://web.utk.edu/~ckotara/English_255/What_Is_The_Big_Deal.html

Earn Points at RecycleBank – https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/earn

***

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

***


Not Without A Fight

Governor Jerry Brown of California recently signed into law the ban of one-time use, disposable thin plastic grocery bags. But that is not the end of it. Yep, the bag people are going to fight it all the way into a public referendum.

The latest salvo I found rather humorous – “What’s more controversial, legalizing pot or criminalizing plastic bags ?” I can appreciate this statement because I did come of age at the tail end of the 1960s. Enough said. I don’t believe the analogy is appropriate however.

Marijuana law map - U.S.

Anyone with even the most modest awareness realizes that several states have decriminalized the possession, even the growing and the sale of marijuana even though all of that remains illegal at the federal level. Don Loepp of Plastics News references an article and some comments in the Missourian newspaper from Columbia, MO. It seems that not only was the Columbia City Council deciding on more relaxed laws and policy towards marijuana but they were also presented with a single-use plastic bag ban petition that would encourage the use of paper or reusable bags by a representative of the Sierra Club and a University of Missouri at Columbia biology professor.

One commentor to the Missourian newspaper article shares my perspective and my behavior – “re-usable tote bags …, which are typically neither paper nor plastic (they’re fabric) and are re-usable AND can be laundered. Some such bags carry no cost, because they have ads for grocery stores, wineries and such on them. This method appears to be very ecological when grocery shopping, because you aren’t sending ANY bags to the landfill”. My bags have either been purchased from Whole Foods and given to me by the St Louis Zoo or other non-profit organizations as a kind of perk. I also have an awesomely large and strong bag from LL Bean that I received as a monogrammed gift from my brother and sister-in-law one Christmas.

LL Bean Extra-Large  Boat and Tote Bag,  Open-Top

LL Bean Extra-Large
Boat and Tote Bag,
Open-Top

However, I will also admit to recycling literally thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of PE grocery bags, mostly from WalMart who maintains a fixture for returning them. So, I am aware that these bags are recyclable and I can understand as a business person that they are a very fast and efficient way for the store to check people out. I am also aware of at least one woman’s death when an overloaded plastic bag broke in the parking lot sending a heavy canned good onto her foot resulting in more than one hospitalization, an infection and ultimately her death.

All of this to say that I do personally support bag bans. In California, the law has funds built into it to help manufacturers re-tool their factories to produce a multi-use bag. Even though the new law goes into effect in July 2015 banning single use plastic bags in California that hasn’t stopped an effort to repeal the law. The plastic bag industry has contracted with the American Progressive Bag Alliance to gather enough signatures for a referendum on the November 2016 ballot to repeal Senate Bill 270.

The ban involves excluding petroleum and biobased plastic bags that are light in weight and tend to “take flight” when not disposed of properly, according to Narcisa Untal, senior planner for Integrated Waste Management with Santa Clara county in California.

Establishments such as grocery and convenience stores will place a 10 cent fee on the paper bags or plastic bags that are made up of a high percentage of post consumer content. Shoppers can also bring in their own bag and avoid the fee.

Untal said revenue generated by the fee goes back to the businesses to recoup costs for purchasing the bags, promotion and marketing, and to help with regulatory reporting. The legislation also requires an operator of a store to establish an at-store recycling program that provides to customers the opportunity to return clean plastic carryout bags to that store. Plastic bags that are exempt include those for fruit and vegetables as well as those from the dry cleaners.

This law seems very reasonable to me !! The American Progressive Bag Alliance contends that the new law threatens nearly 2,000 well-paying California jobs in the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry and also represents a government-sponsored, billion-dollar transfer of wealth from working families to grocers in the form of fees on paper and thicker plastic bags; no money collected from bag fees will be used for environmental programs or for any public purpose.

It probably isn’t hard to determine – I’m on the side of the Bag Ban being upheld by the public will for the good of all of us !!

Photo by Kate TerHaar

Photo by Kate TerHaar

~ Information Resources

“What’s more controversial, legalizing pot or criminalizing plastic bags?” posted by Don Loepp at PlasticsNews on 10/22/14 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20141022/BLOG01/141029974/whats-more-controversial-legalizing-pot-or-criminalizing-plastic

“Columbia City Council says no to marijuana, yes to new buildings” posted on 10/21/14 in The Missourian – http://www.columbiamissourian.com/a/180559/columbia-city-council-says-no-to-marijuana-yes-to-new-buildings/

“Group seeks signatures for referendum to repeal California’s plastic bag ban” posted by Melissa Murphy in the San Jose Mercury News – http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_26778357/group-seeks-signatures-referendum-repeal-californias-plastic-bag

LL Bean Boat and Tote Bag – http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/33381?page=boat-and-tote-bag-open-top

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

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Fortunate Mistakes

“A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.”
~ Albert Szent-Györgyi, Nobel Prize-Winning Biochemist

Post-Its at Occupy Zurich 2011

Post-Its at
Occupy Zurich 2011

Throughout the decades, many of the items of usefulness that we are fondly attached to have been created accidentally. I am absolutely dependent on Post-Its for my weekly grocery reminders. They fit nicely in my checkbook and at the store stick to the cart or the objects I put in the child carrier, since I don’t tote young children around with me anymore (my boys are both too big for that now). During the Occupy movement, Post-Its came in handy for sticking up quick notes.

In 1968, a scientist at 3M in the United States, Dr. Spencer Silver, was attempting to develop a super-strong adhesive. Instead he accidentally created a “low-tack”, reusable, pressure-sensitive adhesive. For five years, Silver promoted his “solution without a problem” within 3M both informally and through seminars but failed to gain acceptance. In 1974 a colleague who had attended one of his seminars, Art Fry, came up with the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook. Fry then utilized 3M’s officially sanctioned “permitted bootlegging” policy to develop the idea. The original notes’ yellow color was chosen by accident, as the lab next-door to the Post-it team had only yellow scrap paper to use.

You’ve no doubt already heard the stories about how penicillin was developed by the thoughtless handling of a bacterial culture or that Velcro was inspired by those pesky burrs we pick out of our socks in Autumn. Velcro has even made the lives of space dwelling astronauts easier. Astronauts have used Velcro to keep track of personal items and even to play board games. One astronaut working at the International Space Station brought a chessboard with pieces lined with Velcro that could be anchored and removed from the board with ease. His main chess opponents: mission control correspondents on Earth. Cellophane was a failed attempt to develop a film coating to make cloth waterproof.

Chess in Space made possible by Velcro

Chess in Space
made possible by Velcro

Recently, one such “accidental” discovery caught my eye in Science News (June 14, 2014 issue). Since our business is made possible by recycling efforts, stories about recycling are always of interest to me. According to a polymer chemist, Jeannette Garcia at IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose CA, previously difficult if not impossible to recycle plastics have been revolutionized by a little tweak in a classic chemical reaction. It will now be possible to break down these engineered plastics into their original components, making them ready to reassemble all over again. Truly a cradle-to-cradle dream come true.

In our business, we have had to consider the alterations that each additional “heat history” produces. The standard method of recycling HDPE #2 and LDPE #4, even PP #5, is by melting the polymers at very high temperatures. While they don’t go into detail about how this breaking down process will be accomplished in the article that I read, they do say that it is completely different than the methods we are familiar with and therefore will not damage the material but allow it to remain pristine. The new thinking was made possible merely because Ms Garcia missed a step in following her chemical recipe. The result was a nearly unbreakable rock of thermoset plastic that remains stable up to temperatures as high as 350 degrees C. The material is accomplished by combining a superstrong plastic with a self-healing gel and is based upon combining nitrogen-containing molecules.

From dynamite to corn flakes to LSD, our world is different because of abundant mistakes. Recently, various Nobel Prizes have been announced, as they are every year. Alfred Nobel, who found a way by the accidental leakage of nitroglycerin to stabilize the highly explosive liquid form by creating a solid form that retained its power revolutionized the construction industry but also was used in war for destructive purposes. So saddened was Nobel by this, he left instructions to create the Nobel Peace Prize in his will. This year recognized its youngest recipient yet – Malala Yousafzai.

Malala Yousafzai co-Recipient 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Yousafzai
co-Recipient
2014 Nobel Peace Prize

~ Information Resources

“Post-it note” from Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-it_note

“Accidental discoveries” posted at Xperimania.net – http://www.xperimania.net/ww/en/pub/xperimania/news/world_of_materials/accidental_discoveries.htm

“Recyclable superplastics made with old chemistry” by Beth Mole posted May 15, 2014 at Science News – https://www.sciencenews.org/article/recyclable-superplastics-made-old-chemistry

“10 Accidental Inventions You Won’t Believe” by Marianne English posted Oct 22, 2013 – http://www.geniusstuff.com/blog/list/10-accidental-inventions/

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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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