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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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Umbra on eco-friendly roofs

Dear Umbra, Our roof is getting pretty old and starting to fall apart. It's one of those asphalt-shingle roofs that most houses have these days. Before we call the roofing company, I'd like to know what's the greenest kind of roofing material to use. Metal? Cedar? More asphalt? I'm sure lots of other readers would like to know, too! Thanks, Wally Bubelis Seattle, Wash. Dearest Wally, Like other readers, you may need a drink or two to wade through the perplexing nexus of budgetary, aesthetic, and environmental concerns involved in making sustainable-building decisions. It sounds to me like you're looking …

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Umbra on dealing with lead paint

Wise One, We have a conundrum. Our house is covered with cedar shingles, which some dope painted, presumably with toxic or lead-laden paint. The paint is flaking, and we need to either get rid of it completely or treat the flakes and paint over them. What is the least toxic (to our family and home environment), affordable way to either strip or repaint? Thanks,John Missoula, Mont. P.S. Bonus: Is there any reason not to put wine corks in our compost? Thinking about my toxic home seems to generate lots of corks. Dearest John, My job seems to generate a lot …

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Umbra on homegrown activism

Dear Umbra, I have been changing my way of living in the past year or so to become more environmentally friendly. I have been recycling (my city recycles almost everything) and I started composting. I have been cutting meat out of my life, and I have been surrounding my home with plants and herbs. I buy biodegradable, organic products that haven't been tested on animals. I've also signed online petitions and became a member of Greenpeace. I carpool with someone and reuse everything. I even make art from recyclable items. I am planning to build an environmentally friendly home, too. …

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Umbra on mosquitoes

Dear Umbra, Our 50-gallon hot water tank has been converted to a rainwater catchment. Due to the open space around the gutter that feeds rainwater into the tank, it is difficult to seal off the catchment to prevent entry and exit of mosquitoes, and they just love to use the catchment to breed. Can I use something natural to discourage them? Rebecca Dearest Rebecca, The eager Culicidae family, like their fellow insects and some of the rest of us, will stop at nothing when overcome by the need to breed. You might as well face it, they're addicted to love. …

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Umbra on wedding rings

Dear Umbra, Help! I am getting married soon and I need to know what I should do about rings. I know that mining for metals and gems is very destructive, and I am also concerned about supporting civil war in Africa through a diamond purchase. Is my only environmentally friendly option to forgo the engagement and wedding rings? Thanks, Kathleen,Oakland, Calif. Dearest Kathleen, Good for you for caring, and congratulations on your wedding. Your environmentally friendly options are either no rings -- and if I had a nickel for every married American woman who doesn't wear a ring, I'd have …

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Umbra on cruises

Dear Umbra, My husband, though a very warmhearted man, does not follow the environmental tides quite as much as I do. He would desperately like to take a cruise for our second honeymoon. I know cruise ships dump waste in the oceans and are not good for the ecosystem in general, but could you tell me which cruise lines are the most environmentally conscious? In the spirit of compromise, I have agreed to go, but would like to make the least harmful choice possible. Thanks for your help! Sienna Annapolis, Md. Dearest Sienna, I'm not sure how seasick I'd get …

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Umbra on Styrofoam

Dear Umbra, I continue to avoid buying Styrofoam, but I don't really know why. In middle school, I remember being told not to chew on Styrofoam cups because the action of breaking the Styrofoam would deplete the ozone and ingesting it would make me ill. This information, given to me by the lunchroom woman, is all I seem to have on the material. What is it with Styrofoam? Why should we avoid it? Sincerely, Sundee Chicago, Ill. Dearest Sundee, I'm sure Lunch Room Woman is a wonderful person, but almost everything she told you was wrong. To begin with, there …

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Umbra on student activism

Dear Umbra, I may be asking the wrong person, but I hope you can help out. I am a student at the University of North Carolina and my group, the Student Environmental Action Coalition, is undertaking an ambitious campaign to raise student fees by $4 per semester in order to bring renewable energy to our campus. While $4 doesn't sound like a lot, in the end it would amount to nearly $300,000 per year, which we hope to increase by corporate matching-grant programs. This, then, is a two-part question. First, can you think of any creative ways to convince the …

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