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Ball o’ confusion: Ask Umbra on non-toxic exercise balls

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I want to buy a stability ball and some purport to be PVC-free and made of non-toxic vinyl. Is there such a thing? RoseNew York City If that ball is vinyl, this scene isn't as healthy as it looks.Photo: Adria RichardsA. Dearest Rose, I give you snaps for seeking a more stable, balanced life. Stability balls promise all sorts of fun, from improving your posture to accidental masturbation (shh). Only problem is, many stability balls (also called exercise balls or Swiss balls) look like rubber but are, in fact, vinyl. Hardly a …

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How to tune up your bike for spring [VIDEO]

Considering that at some point in our childhood past, almost all of us rode a bike, it's pretty incredible how much fear bikes can inspire in adults. There's the fear of riding in traffic -- that's probably the main one, and something I won't deal with here. There is also the fear of how to take care of the bike itself -- compounded by the fear of the all-too-common assholish guys at bike shops who ignore you or sneer at you by default when you walk in the door. But here's the beautiful thing: Bicycles are really quite simple machines. …

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Friends help you move; real friends help you dispose of dead bodies in an eco-friendly manner

Think you get to stop being green just because you kicked the compost bucket? With land space for burial at a premium and crematoriums pumping potentially dubious people-smuts into the sky, you have got to be kidding. Stop slacking off, corpses: If you can't live green, it's time to start dying green. Short of a Shaun of the Dead-style zombie-fueled economy, what's the most efficient way to dispose of remains? Here are a couple snazzy new approaches to keeping dead bodies green (without, you know, mold): Shatter them. Freezing bodies with liquid nitrogen, then vibrating them into pieces and evaporating …

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Urban family values

The sane person’s guide to bringing kids on public transit

Kids on the bus can be fun for everyone. Really.Photo: Roar PettersonRiding public transportation, as I've said before, is good for kids. And the presence of children on transit can enrich the experience for all riders. (Settle down, people! I said can.) So it's unfortunate that the reality of taking little ones on buses and trains often proves so challenging -- both for the folks bringing them and for those along for the ride. Parents complain about the hassle. There's the rushing and waiting in all kinds of weather. There's the occasional exposure to PG-13 language and behavior. And then …

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one word: plastics

How plastic could help save the environment

Plastic isn't the problem, you are, says science writer Susan Freinkel. Freinkel argues that plastic could actually help save the environment -- it takes less energy to produce than many other materials, it makes a lot of green tech possible, and it replaces materials that are "sustainable" only because they come from destroying animals or trees. We just have to start appreciating it and stop throwing it away. The problem is our disposable culture, not what we're disposing, says Freinkel. It's not plastic's fault that we compulsively toss out bags and bottles after a single use. That's dumb, wasteful behavior …

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polish up your act

Ask Umbra on nail polish and its disposal

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, How do I dispose of my formaldehyde-laden nail polish in an environmentally safe fashion? Can I recycle the glass bottle and plastic top in my recycling with the polish inside? JacquiePetaluma, CA Don't just toe the line! Use less toxic polish.Photo: Maureen LunnA. Dearest Jacquie, What a perfectly-timed-for-spring-cleaning question. Throwing products with chemicals like formaldehyde in the trash -- or even a standard recycling bin -- is like sweeping Agent Orange under your rug. So how does one deal with these iffy finger paints? Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT dispose of …

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you can't own property, man

How to not buy anything ever again

Photo: Toban BlackNeither a borrower nor a lender be? Stuff it, old man. Shareable has collected a primer on "collaborative consumption," i.e. the fine art of consensual mooching. At the risk of sounding like a dangerous commie: It turns out there's basically no reason to be the sole owner of anything ever again. Among the things Shareable shows you how to go splitsies on: Housing. If you can handle a housemate, sharing living quarters reduces your rent and can make your utilities usage more efficient. Our favorite: The cohousing directory, which helps you find communities with cooperative home ownership. Food …

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kicking up dirt

Biodegradable shoes go from footwear to fertilizer

Photo: OAT ShoesAre your shoes on their last legs? If they were OAT shoes (which they aren't, because you can't buy them in the States yet), you'd be able to just shuck 'em off and bury them in the yard. Kicks from this new line biodegrade completely, a neat trick that just netted them an award for green fashion at Amsterdam fashion week. Though the runway concept probably didn't hurt: Photo: Peter Stitger Okay, old shoes are perhaps not the greatest environmental hazard facing our planet.[1] But considering how hard it is to find a place that will recycle plain …

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Urban family values

Seven ways to live in a small space with kids and not go crazy

Whee! Living small is fun!Photo: Anna MSo you want to raise your family in a city but can't afford much square footage? Never fear. Despite the challenges, it's possible to live in a small space -- with kids -- without sacrificing your sanity. First, let's define small, since our idea of an acceptable amount of space has changed dramatically in the past several decades. In 1950, the average American home was 983 square feet, and the average household size was 3.54 people. Today's "average" home is close to 2,500 square feet, even while average household size has decreased to 2.67 …

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Will to Refill

Ask Umbra on refillable cleaning supplies

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I'm trying to cut back on plastic waste and am wondering if you know of places that offer things like cleaning supplies in bulk, so that I can refill and reuse my old containers? Thanks!Lyda L.Harlem, NY A bottle walks into a bar and asks for a refill ...Photo: Dave PinterA. Dearest Lyda, I like the way you think. What better way to clean up our acts than with cleaning supplies? The message in the bottle in this case: It's practical and saves resources. The reusable bottle goes back to the days …