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

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

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Who Wouldn’t Want Clean Power ?

Einstein Quote w Tree

Judging by the flurry of articles in our local Democrat-News published on Aug 12, 2015 there are certainly some who don’t want to make the effort to have cleaner sources of powering our electricity in these parts of our country. They include not only our local rural electric co-op and the guiding National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) but our politicians as well. That our politicians are directly supportive of our electric utilities doesn’t surprise me. The monthly Rural Missouri co-operative publication has been carrying editorials against the EPAs initiatives for months, maybe a year or longer. So of course it doesn’t surprise me to see editorial pieces this week in our local newspaper by Congressman Jason Smith (R) or Sen Roy Blunt (R) against the EPA plan as well.

I’ve only seen ONE real argument against making any changes to how we get our electricity from any of these official sources – COST.

Sen Roy Blunt – “Electric service providers in Missouri have warned that the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan will raise energy costs for Missourians . . . ” and “Middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, . . .”

Congressman Jason Smith – “. . . under the Clean Air Act . . . emission limits will raise the price of electricity, force the closure of coal plants in Missouri and cost people jobs . . .”

Jo Ann Emerson (former Missouri Congresswoman, now CEO for the NRECA) – “Any increase in the cost of electricity impacts those who can least afford it, . . .” and “While we appreciate the efforts . . . the Clean Air Act . . . will raise electricity rates . . .”

Barry Hart, CEO Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives – “We are focused on the affordability . . . of electricity” and “. . . the final rules make it far more likely electric rates will dramatically increase.”

Maybe we don’t pay enough for electricity here in Missouri. We love our right to pollute in order to keep our costs low. Certainly, the burden will be on the poorer segments of society. I’m certain that there will be no executives volunteering to cut their salary in order to keep the increased cost of electricity lower for the poorer segments of society !! I do worry that “enormously wealthy individuals and vastly powerful corporations are digging in their heels and allowing themselves to be willfully blinded to reality, all in the name of milking the last few dollars out of a dying economy based on fossil fuels”.

Missouri's Callaway Nuclear Generating Station

Missouri’s Callaway
Nuclear Generating Station

Jim Jura, CEO Associated Electric Cooperative notes that “Coal generation has been a significant factor in providing our members with reliable electricity at low rates.” He also complains that the EPAs new rules do not credit electric cooperatives for the 750 megawatts of renewable energy from wind farms nor the millions of dollars spent on energy efficiency measures to reduce demand. Yes, Missouri does have a serious problem with the new EPA regulations.

In 2013, coal supplied 83% of Missouri’s net electricity generation. The state had one nuclear power plant, the Callaway Nuclear Generating Station, which contributes 9% of the state’s net electricity generation. And renewable energy resources accounted for only about 3% of Missouri’s net electricity with most of this coming from conventional hydroelectric power and wind. Honestly, I’ve no idea where the other 5% comes from as that was not identified at the US Energy Information Administration’s website !! So while I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in Sen Claire McCaskill’s (D) lack of a visionary energy perspective as well, I do think she does make an important point – Missouri won’t be able to make such extreme modifications to our energy delivery systems in only 5 years, and maybe not even in 15 years.

I am grateful for our electricity. I miss it when we don’t have it. Our lives are built around access to certain conveniences. I certainly don’t prefer having to use the gas powered generator that we are reduced to when we have an extended power outage usually because of some storm. Thankfully these don’t happen too often. Gas powered generators are noisy and I don’t think gas is the “cleanest” kind of energy.

Electricity Cost

It’s not that I really want my electric bill to cost us more. Currently we pay $372 + each month for our local electricity consumption. No one (including us) really wants to pay more for anything. I’ve been grateful to see gasoline prices falling (yes falling, which seems like a novel idea at the moment) over the last year or two. However, I must admit that my environmentalist heart is in conflict with my frugal heart at the moment on this whole issue. We can’t forever deny the atmospheric challenges that are affecting our weather, will likely affect our food crops and often affect the quality of air that people breathe leading to suffering and diseases.

So I see this Clean Power Plan as something similar to Obamacare – not the perfect solution, not the complete answer to one of the more vexing, complex and difficult to solve problems of our time but it’s a beginning, an attempt to right the balance that sustains life on this planet. I fear sometimes that we are already too late but throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing certainly can’t help. Pretending there isn’t a serious imbalance in our environmental qualities, or being in such a state of denial that we think there really isn’t a “problem” at all, won’t help us arrive at cleaner sources of energy generation.

My partner says we need a new kind of energy. Yes, that is what we really need now !! And that happy circumstance is not in our view finders currently.

Current Energy Choices

In this blog I try to be a voice that is reasonable and practical about the complexity of our environmental choices. As I write this morning, I am gazing at a thorny thicket which is blocking the forward progress of humanity. How do we keep the environmental quality of this planet at the level of human sustainability ? The way is not clear. Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” So we need an entirely different perspective on how to supply our energy needs. Not simple resistance, not blind denial, not optimistic sugar plums. I don’t personally have a creative vision of something that will solve this problem for us. But I do hope there are some humans out there who will yet find that opening into a brighter future. I believe there is no issue of more importance in our modern times than the resources we choose to supply our energy requirements and the ways in which our human behaviors affect the planet’s climate. There are so many ways that both of these are going to directly affect the quality of life for humans going into the future.

Even as far back as 1957, Admiral Hyman Rickover (a visionary with the gift of great insight and clear thinking) had this to say –

“The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume. In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.”

“Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.”

Unfortunately, current energy strategies are at present based on unsustainable thinking. When it comes to public policies and strategic planning, a complete rethinking must take place in order to step away from self-destructing behavior. While it is understandable for us to focus on novel ways of obtaining energy (wind, solar, geothermal or nuclear power sources), it has long been recognized that simply reducing demand is cost effective and can help sustain us in the short term at least. Realistically there will be inefficiencies in our attempts at converting to alternate energy sources. Our dependence on complex systems means that we will need time to find a way. Using less energy in general, recycling most of the resources we do use (hopefully approaching even as high as 90-95% recycled) will keep enough material in the cycle to also help keep restocking demands from as yet untapped resources low.

Conserve Energy

~ Information Resources
(please note that this week you may not find ALL of the information resources below quoted or used in my blog but these are all good sources of information on this topic which I have located while doing my own research that may help you to form opinions and perspectives for your own self about this important issue. ~ Deborah Hart Yemm)

On New EPA Rule—McCaskill Leads Colleagues in Pursuing Commonsense Adjustments to Protect Consumers – posted on Sen McCaskill’s website Dec 10, 2014 – http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/media-center/news-releases/on-new-epa-rulemccaskill-leads-colleagues-in_pursuing-commonsense-adjustments-to-protect-consumers

How Obama’s Clean Power Plan actually works — a step-by-step guide posted Aug 5, 2015 by Brad Plumer at Vox – http://www.vox.com/2015/8/4/9096903/clean-power-plan-explained

Clean Power Plan puts children ahead of polluters posted July 14, 2015 at Clean Air Missouri from the Columbia Daily Tribune – http://www.cleanairmissouri.org/clean-power-plan-puts-children-ahead-of-polluters/

Affordable Electricity Rural America’s Economic Lifeline – http://www.nreca.coop/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Affordable-Electricity-Rural-Americas-Economic-Lifeline.pdf

Clean Power Plan posted at the EPA website – http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan posted Aug 3, 2015 by Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator – https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/08/6-things-clean-power-plan/

Elon Musk: Burning Fossil Fuels “Dumbest Experiment In History” posted Mar 30, 2015 by Steve Hanley at Gas2.org – http://gas2.org/2015/03/30/musk-burning-fossil-fuels-dumbest-experiment-ever/

Sustainable Cities and Military Installations pg 238 as edited by Igor Linkov and published Nov 12, 2013 is posted at Google Books – https://goo.gl/5RXRae

Missouri State Profile and Energy Estimates – posted at the US Energy Information Administration website – http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MO

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

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Facing Up to Climate Change

Bear Glacier Alaska

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

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

Pope Francis  ~ photo by Franco Origlia for Getty Images

Pope Francis
~ photo by Franco Origlia for Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Drought

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

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

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

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

~ Information Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SUPER SIZE me NOT !!!

Seventh Generation 4x Laundry Detergent

Seventh Generation 4x Laundry Detergent

This week’s blog was inspired by the EgoLogic laundry detergent container in the image above (made of a cardboard shell that encloses a plastic bag). The packaging company’s slogan is “packaging the earth can live with”. The plastic bag is made of low-density polyethylene, identified with the #4 resin code, and can be recycled through centers that take plastic bags, such as supermarkets with bag collection bins. The bottle cap is polypropylene, #5, and though sometimes not accepted by recycling centers, though some will take it; you can also make an extra effort to leave it in “Preserve’s Gimme 5” collection bins at Whole Foods Market stores.

The cardboard shell, meanwhile, can be recycled or even composted in home and industrial settings. The shell is 100 percent recycled, made from 70 percent cardboard and 30 percent newspaper. Using paper for the bulk of the container results in Seventh Generation using 66 percent less plastic per bottle than most 100 oz HDPE laundry detergent bottles. The 4x concentrated detergent comes in a 50 oz container that will wash 66 loads, the same number of laundry loads as the company’s 100 oz size.

And this is directly relevant to our recycled materials business. We take #2 HDPE plastic containers turned in for recycling; and make panel products from these, under the name Origins (because it acknowledges the source of its existence visually) which are used for surfacing applications, countertops and restroom partitions. In the image below, if you look closely enough, you can even see some bits of labels that did not come out completely from the plastic washing procedure. You can see the colorful nature of the laundry aisle at your favorite grocery store represented in the colors below.

Origins 501 Confetti from detergent bottles and milk jugs

Origins 501 Confetti
from detergent bottles
and milk jugs

Now, I’m not going to claim that the debut of Seventh Generation’s 4x “Ego Logic” laundry detergent container has me worried about the imminent demise of our business. Yet, it does speak deeply to issues that concern me personally as an environmentalist. Our global economy is based on consuming resources and businesses tie their profitability to our buying more and more, and sometimes that “more” is accomplished by our consuming bigger and bigger sized units as their customers. With a global population that has grown exponentially during the last century, this “OLD” business model is NOT sustainable.

Super Size Toilet Paper

Look at the current state of toilet paper rolls, for example (and I personally ALWAYS look for a product with some recycled content). These have grown so “super sized”, that they don’t really fit in my bathroom storage bin anymore. Our nation has grown obese on fast food and quick shops offering gigantic sodas, at a lower price than a small size. For a couple of decades, since restaurant meal portions have grown so very large, my husband and I have been splitting our single entree, and having more than enough to eat; and now, we even share that 3 ways with our oldest son, adding salads or soups to make the meal stretch adequately. The humanity of this planet can not continue to make rampant over-consumption of resources, our holy grail to economic well-being. It is NOT sustainable – period.

A change in containers may ultimately affect the availability of recycled #2 HDPE plastics as a feedstock for our Origins material but I’m not too worried yet. The pace of change is not that rapid. In the “State of Green Business”, GreenBiz.com’s 7th annual assessment of corporate sustainability trends and metrics, a picture emerges that is both optimistic and highly problematic — and according to Joel Makower represents a perfect metaphor for the sector. His verdict? “For all the efforts companies are making, it’s not leading to progress.” You can read more by clicking on the link under “Information Resources” below.

I have an online friend in New Zealand, Ted Howard, who has spent decades now trying to change that basis of our collective reality (you can read his Money blog, from the link in the information resources section below). As yet, he has not been successful; but with a nod to the recent passing of International Women’s Day (March 8th) and my watching of the 2005 movie “North Country”, the night before, about women forced into aggressively male working environments, simply because that is the only way they can provide “enough” of what could even be arguably termed a “decent lifestyle” for their children – I think a vision such as Ted’s would make a difference in that dynamic.

But this is a blog about materials; and not about economics or women’s issues. Everything in life is connected somehow; and today, my perspective is focused on what this new container from Seventh Generation says to me personally, and to the nature of our business. Every time I pour a minuscule amount of the concentrated detergent into my HE washing machine (a 50 oz 4x EcoLogic bottle washes the same number of loads, as a 100 oz 2x HDPE bottle) I am encouraged that a shift is occurring in our human value systems, that has previously favored the “always low price” mentality of WalMart’s claims. I’ve noticed at WalMart (believe me, it is the price of living in remote wilderness, that one must accept WalMart as the only option to get some of the “necessaries” of life – though I personally prefer Whole Foods and the higher quality stores available to me, a hundred miles away in St Louis !!) that “getting that low price” has often involved buying a “super sized” item (sometimes that size is the ONLY choice available) that is way more than I really want.

So, don’t “super size” me !!! Just give me enough of what I REALLY need and the sustainability of our species given the resources of our planet will be more likely over the long run. I’m even willing to pay MORE to help assure that outcome.

~ Information Resources

“7th Generation Debuts 4x Laundry Detergent in Paper Bottle” by Jonathan Bardelline posted March 10, 2011 in Green Biz.com – http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2011/03/10/7th-generation-debuts-4x-laundry-detergent-paper-bottle

EgoLogic brands “Packaging the earth can live with” – http://www.ecologicbrands.com/

Ted Howard’s NZ blog – “Money” – http://tedhowardnz.wordpress.com/money/

“The State of Green Business 2014” by Joel Makower posted January 21, 2014 in Green Biz.com – http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/01/21/state-green-business-2014

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

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Connectivity & Sustainability

Nothing gives me more optimism than the rise of internet connectivity for the quality of life on this planet going forward. Being able to interact with a wide diversity of individuals, gain quality information simply by having good search techniques and a degree of discernment for what is true or not, for misinformation is rampant on the net – both intentional and ignorant, and the speed at which one can accelerate their learning based upon their own connections, patterns, interests and perspectives is staggering sometimes. Just keeping up is a challenge sometimes.

Circles of Connectivity

Yet it is good to be alive at such a point in history if one is inclined towards social activism, which certainly those involved in sustainability and environmental issues for the built environment certainly are. I believe that the world is a better place for it. There is possible now, a high degree of cooperation between a diverse group of interests – governmental, institutional, scientific and commercial organizations. Each utilizing their specialized understandings in concert with each other for the highest good of a broad section of the population, who are the ultimate beneficiaries. There is a discernible impulse towards innovative responses and the ability to get attention focused on these, thanks to a greater degree of accessibility and connectivity.

There is a symbiotic relationship between environmentally innovative firms and interest in one another’s pursuits. As a materials business, focused on sustainable processes that utilized already extracted natural resources by extending their usefulness and not squandering their residual values, we come in contact every day with other niche interests with common perspectives of seeking the good for all involved. It is heartening at a deep level. There is great hope inherent in these developments.

When larger mainstream industries operating within traditional standards can also realize coincidentally greater profit margins, it is not difficult for them to be motivated to cooperate with national programs such as the US Green Building Council’s LEED specifications. We have seen conventional resistance, certainly, within the plastics industry, when their profitability feels threatened by too generic of an approach to standards. It does not promote progress for parties to take too rigid of a stance in opposition to one another.

Symbiosis Circles

For example, though Monsanto continues to experience a high degree of opposition to their practices which I am not here to judge publically one way or another, a moment in time stands out for me. We were involved in St Louis Earth Day celebrations back in the 1990s and developed a friendship there with a long-time local environmentalist who also works at state levels to promote the common good. A group of activists came into the celebration and staged an impromptu demonstration against the corporation. She said to me, still a fledgling in the movement at that time, better progress is found sitting down with Monsanto seeking commonality that appeals to their financial interests than all the demonstrations that will ever be staged. I understood and have not forgotten.

There is a law in physics “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” but somehow, it is my belief that indications of harmony and efforts at cooperation move progress forward more quickly that waging battles and seeking to win by causing others to lose. As the controversies over climate change show, even the best and most diligent minds find it difficult to arrive at simple explanations, likely outcomes or good solutions to the large issues that remain of utmost importance to – not the sustainability of the planet, which will easily survive anything humanity can hurl at her – but the sustainability of our species. That is the issue that people need to consider carefully, down to the level of individual actions and translated up to whatever higher level they have any influence over.

Circles of Sustainability

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

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