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Umbra on keeping compost rat-free

Hi Umbra, I live in Providence, R.I., and I have a basic composting bin; it's about three feet tall, made of black plastic with ventilation shafts on all four sides and on top, but it has no bottom. I want to set this up in my tiny side yard for my neighbors and me to use. However, we have a big rat problem here and I am afraid all this delicious, rotting food will attract them. Is there any way to keep a rat-free compost bin in a city? MichelleProvidence, R.I. Dearest Michelle, Rats are amazing creatures that have adapted …

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Umbra on composting toilets

Dear Umbra, I grew up in a house built in 1812. Until 1962, we still used an outhouse that was built with the house. My mother said that when she was a girl (in the 1920s), a man used to come around and clean it out each year, but it was never done in my memory. The seats were built about 10 feet over the debris and it never seemed to fill up. We did put lime (the kind you buy for your garden) in it. Some people now use outhouses where they camp, but I have heard that they …

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Umbra on anti-environmentalists

Dear Sequin-Wearing Award Ceremony Audience, Folks, we have a winnah! That's right: The results are in from the first annual and perhaps only "Cheer Us Up the Weather Is Godawful and We're at War" contest. We know the weather is beyond our control, but let us all work fervently to limit the possibility that we could have this contest again. If you get what I mean. But, eager readers, back to the matter at hand. In my last column, I put out a call for a clever, meaningful word for "anti-environmentalist" -- a word that would be both withering in …

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Umbra on garbage disposals

Dear Umbra: When my garbage disposal died recently, I replaced it with a clever new design that uses no electricity (just water pressure), but it led me to wonder which is really kinder to the environment: putting kitchen waste in the disposal or just trashing it? I compost whenever possible, of course, but there are always scraps that are mixed with animal fat and shouldn't be added to a compost pile. How does the damage of this organic waste taking up space in a landfill and emitting methane to speed global warming compare to whatever happens to it when sent …

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Umbra on paper towels vs. hand dryers

Dear Umbra, As an environmental science instructor, I'm often asked which is the better choice when drying one's hands in a public restroom, assuming both options are available: paper towels, with their associated disposal issues, or hand dryers, with their use of electricity, much of which is wasted. What's the answer? Curious in Iowa,Dawn Dearest Dawn, Patient multitudes have written repeatedly with the insistent query: "Hand Dryer or Paper Towels???" Who can sleep at night while this haunting question goes unresolved? The public restroom has become a place of agony and indecision for many Gristers, and I'm sorry that I've …

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Umbra on what to call anti-environmentalists

Dear Umbra, I am having a problem with the word anti-environmentalists. It seems to me to make these people out to be the good guys for opposing environmentalists. Don't we need a term that better describes people who trash the environment for profit? Say, enviro-rapist? Maybe something a little more civil? JimDeerwood, Minn. Dearest Jim, Congratulations! Your question has been chosen for the First Annual and Perhaps Only "Cheer Us Up the Weather Is Godawful and We're at War" Grist Slang Invention Contest. Fill in the blank. Put your thinking caps on, readers. Your task is to coin a new …

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Umbra on making your parents’ home eco-friendly

Dear Umbra, I am a teenager and so I live with my parents. We recycle paper and some other products (mostly milk containers), but I don't think our house as a whole is very eco-friendly. Since I'm not in charge, I can't really go out and buy new appliances or anything like that. Should I try to convince my parents to do things like switch the type of light bulb we use, or are there other things I can do to help without overstepping my authority? Thanks! LindsayLiberty, Mo. Dearest Lindsay, Whatever you do to improve the eco-friendliness of the …

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Umbra on having kids

Dear Wonderful Umbra, I truly love your column. You should give humor lessons to the rest of the Grist staff. My question concerns the environmental consequences of the decision to reproduce or not to reproduce. Your answer to Genevieve pointed out that the two biggest actions we can take to support a healthy environment relate to transportation and housing. Why do you not consider reproduction the biggest action we take that affects the environment? After all, a new person will use plenty of resources throughout his or her life. DanNorman, Okla. Dearest Dan, Thank you for the compliment, but I …

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Umbra on that time of the month

Hey there, Umbra! I have a kind of gross-yet-pressing question for you: Are sanitary products (pads, etc.) environmentally friendly? I would think no, but what do you say? And what can I do about it? Thanks, JessicaTelford, Tenn. Hey there, dearest Jessica, How is it possible that we live in a country where diapers are table conversation and menstruation is considered gross? But no worries, there are many nice flowery euphemisms for us to wield while treading gently around this delicate topic. Environmentally, there are two issues here: First, what are the impacts of tampon and pad production, and second, …

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Umbra on wood floors and solid waste

Oh Wise Umbra, We'll be replacing our carpeting with wood flooring, probably from one of the major home stores (Home Depot or Lowe's). Are wood floors a really bad environmental choice if they are made from unsustainably harvested wood? Would I be better off going with a (probably petroleum-based) fake wood floor? Also, is there any environmentally responsible way to dispose of my old carpet? If the nice garbage collectors pick it up, I'm sure it will sit in a landfill till long after I've made it to the spirit world. Also, I've got loads of things in the house …

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