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Umbra on makeup

Dear Umbra, I haven't been reading Grist for very long, so excuse me if you've already addressed this topic, but what are the environmental impacts of using cosmetics such as lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, and especially nail polish? Since becoming an environmentally conscious consumer, I have purchased cruelty-free products, but I have only recently begun to consider the environmental impact of the packaging and the products themselves. Are there products that are "all natural" and do not pose a threat to the environment? Where do all these chemicals in makeup come from (again, especially nail polish!) and what happens …

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Umbra on hair dye

Greetings, O Esteemed Umbra, I decided a while ago that I wouldn't put toxic chemicals down the drain for the sake of vanity. However, I'm a dirty, dirty blond (um, hair color) and was wondering if there is a "safe" way to add some highlights. Besides lemon juice, are there other products or substances that can be used to safely create that sunny look I'd like to have? Dirty HairyCincinnati, Ohio Dearest Dirty Hairy, A strand of hair consists of a cortex surrounded by a protective cuticle. The pigmented cortex is what makes you a dirty blond. It also holds …

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Umbra on environmentally oblivious teens

Dear Umbra, My girlfriend's 14-year-old daughter lives with us, and she's the most environmentally oblivious person I've ever met. She makes George Bush and Dick Cheney look like card-carrying members of the Green Party. She throws trash out the car window or tosses it on the street. She never shuts off a light or turns down the heat when leaving a room. She can stand in front of the open refrigerator for 15 minutes, chatting on the phone with her friends while idly rummaging through the contents. She refuses to eat organic food, saying that it's too "granola." She is …

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Umbra on environmental stress

Dear Umbra, I'm the poster child for a late-twentysomething environmentally responsible adult. I use less than 100 gallons of gas a year, less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, less than 20 gallons of water per day, less than 100 therms of natural gas during the winter in Minnesota. I take my garbage out once every two months because nearly everything is recycled, composted, or bought in reusable containers. My house, built in 1921, scores a 9.8 out of 10 on the Energy Star assessment (I document it on my website). All my investments are socially responsible. My job …

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Umbra on environmentally oblivious family

Dear Umbra, I am totally frustrated with my in-laws. They know how important it is for us to raise our infant in the least toxic environment we can manage. However, when we go to their house, I have no control over the situation. We arrived there for Easter vacation only to find out that three rooms had been painted and two newly carpeted -- and not with eco-friendly materials! There was also a new dresser in our room that smelled horrible! I was furious. The next day our son woke up with a swollen eye and a cough. They thought …

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Announcing Umbra’s latest contest

Dearest Beloved Readers, Another turn of the seasons (still four, at last count) has brought us together again on the eve of Earth Day, the moment in the sun for the environmental movement, the fifth anniversary of Grist, and the second anniversary of my ability to freely pontificate into your inbox. It's been a nice, quiet year here in the stacks, though there was a phase upstairs of eating only grapefruit that took quite a toll. (I do so much heavy lifting of reference volumes -- The Encyclopedia of Niggling Concerns; Paper Products: A Comprehensive Bibliography -- that, alas, I …

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Umbra on recycling CD jewel cases

Dear Umbra, I've been Googling all over to find a place where I can recycle old CD cases, to no avail. I'm moving soon and would really like to find an environmentally safe way to dispose of these things. Do you know of any place they can be dropped off, or any other alternatives? MelissaEdgewater, N.J. Dearest Melissa, Here's an answer not just for you, but for all those readers who write in with insanely specific recycling problems: If you've called your municipal recycling experts and Googled all over the place, consider that you've done your best and call it …

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Umbra on post-consumer content

Dear Umbra, So I was sitting there at lunch, eating my crackers, when I spied a recycling symbol and was confused. What is "pre-consumer" content? I mean, if the label is true ("carton made from 100 percent recycled paperboard -- minimum 35 percent post-consumer content"), what is the other 65 percent? And what is paperboard? KevinLaurel, Md. Dearest Kevin, Pre-consumer content is the stuff picked up from the cutting-room floor and recycled into new paper products. Paper that was wrinkled, or the odds and ends of a sheet after the pattern was cut out for the cereal box, or the …

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Umbra on the market for recycled material

Dear Umbra, In reference to your polystyrene response: The polystyrene I have seen recently appears with a No. 6 recycling triangle on the bottom. But I've heard there is no market for this stuff, even though our local recycling company claims to want us to collect all Nos. 1 through 7. How can this be? GailSan Bruno, Calif. Dearest Gail, It's a trick. Since recycling became the Next Big Thing in the 1980s, towns have been testing all sorts of rules, collection bins, and guidelines to see which work best. Some places commingle everything: Glass, plastic, and paper all get …

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Umbra on exporting our recycling

Dear Umbra, While we were cleaning out a family member's house, a neighbor stopped by to see what we were up to. I mentioned that we were tossing "real trash" into the large dumpster and compiling recyclable materials for a trip to the recycling center or metal scrap yard. We don't know this person well, but without him knowing our political persuasion, he stated that recycling is just another segment of the "liberal lie" and that only 2 percent or less of recyclables collected by municipalities in the United States are processed and used here. He then claimed that the …

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