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Umbra’s second helpings: Untangling the garden hose problem

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt.

April showers bring May flowers, but come June, sometimes the situation sours. From a reader in New Zealand:

"I’m diligently avoiding PVC plastics, but cannot find a good quality non-PVC garden hose. We have particularly high water pressure, so we need a hose that can withstand the pressure."

Read on for Umbra's response. Hopefully her answer doesn't rubber the wrong way. And remember, choosing the right plants for the right location means you'll have to haul out that hose less often.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of our Ask Umbra advice column, and to celebrate, we’re pulling a favorite gem of eco-advice out of the archives each week.

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Ask Umbra: Are we about to wreck space, too?

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

I’ve been reading news about space mining and wondering whether destroying Mother Earth isn’t enough for us, so now we’re invading space! Or isn’t it that bad? Please enlighten me.

N.
Ottawa, Canada

Photo by Puuiki Beach.

A. Dearest N.,

You know the most magical thing about my job? Just when I think I’ve seen it all, just when my brain starts leaking at the thought of answering one more question about lightbulbs, I get a question like yours. You have launched me into a realm of which I knew very little, and now know only a fraction more. Let’s explore together, shall we?

Space mining, as you say, is much in the news of late. We have seen both the successful voyage of the SpaceX Dragon, the first commercial cargo ship to visit the international space station, and the public debut of Planetary Resources, a company that intends to mine asteroids for water and precious metals including gold and platinum.

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Umbra’s second helpings: Staying green with sunscreen

With great weather comes great responsibility. Before you slap on that SPF, make sure you aren't frying your health and the planet to keep your skin from burning. Watch Umbra share her wisdom on eco-friendly sunscreen. She promises not to rub it in:

Wow, 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen make it into the ocean every year? Oh wait, that fact was pre-Jersey Shore (Umbra made this video in June of 2009). Get the most up-to-date information in the Environmental Working Group's 2012 guide to sunscreens. And check out our sizzling test of seven eco-sunscreens while you're at it.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of our Ask Umbra advice column, and to celebrate, we’re pulling a favorite gem of eco-advice out of the archives each week.

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Resisting the splurge: The travails of an urban hunter-gatherer

Photo by londoninflames.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: The success or failure of my No New Stuff challenge hinges on a bottle of mousse.

I stood in the hair aisle of the salon for a good five minutes a few weeks ago, holding an intense internal debate. Was I allowed to buy it? Pro: Mousse could technically be considered a toiletry item, therefore exempt under my original No New Stuff terms. Con: I already owned a bottle of a different hair product. Pro: But that stuff doesn’t work. Con: But shouldn’t I finish the bottle -- which would take months under my intermittent blow-drying routine -- before re-upping?*

Banning new purchases, even if it’s just for a month, certainly brings fresh philosophical questions to the formerly simple act of buying stuff. Do I really need that dress, that toothbrush, that couch pillow? Could I get by instead by repairing something I already own? And if only a new one will do, does it have to be brand-new, or can I save money and materials by picking up a new-to-me item?

I handled a few key repairs and refurbishments last time around, so it’s time now to consider the secondhand solution. I’m already a huge fan of resale shops and online marketplaces, so I figured that used shopping would be an easy out for my retail desires. That coveted lime-squeezer thingy? That shoe rack I’ve been meaning to buy? Surely Craigslist would have my back.

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Ask Umbra: Is it ‘cheating’ to ride an electric bike?

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

When I got my bike a year ago, I had high hopes that I would use it all the time in place of my car. But where I live, it’s just too hard to go anywhere with a load of groceries -- I have a hard enough time lugging myself around. And it’s just not a bike-friendly town. I’ve found compatriots, but they all bike for fun or exercise. I want to use my car less, I want to use a bike more, so ... I’m thinking of getting a motorized bicycle. Is that OK, even though it feels like cheating? Do you have any recommendations for one under $1,000?

V.
Rockford, Ill.

The e-bike: a stylish addition to any outfit. (Photo by April Streeter.)

A. Dearest V.,

Purists might scoff, but I say yes, it is OK for you to buy a motorized bicycle, fondly known as an e-bike. I applaud your effort to de-car your life -- we should all drive as little as possible, whenever possible, within the parameters of our daily reality.

For the uninitiated: E-bikes are basically regular bicycles endowed with a small, battery-powered motor. They can cruise along at speeds of up to 20 mph, and the charge will last roughly 20 miles, depending on battery type, riding conditions, and so forth. In most cases, you still pedal a bit, although some e-bikes do all the work. The amount of pedaling you do will vary according to the type of bike, the settings it offers, and how eager you are to get up that monster hill.

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Oh for chrissakes, will.i.am, you did not seriously just take a helicopter to a climate change meeting

It's great when celebrities get the green bug and decide they want to use their fame to tell people “hey, this climate change thing? It's a problem.” But guys, GUYS, as much as we appreciate the support, we’re REALLY going to need you not to pull stunts like the one will.i.am just did: showing up to a meeting about climate change in a goddamn gigantic helicopter.

The rapper was paying a visit to climate change expert Myles Allen, who apparently is not as exasperated about this as we are. I do believe that, as Allen put it, will.i.am is "committed to the issues." He's written a whole song about this stuff! But. BUT. Riding in a helicopter and then BIKING to your meeting? Does not make sense. Sure, sure, every little bit counts. But that little bit of carbon you saved by biking was pretty much made irrelevant by the gigantic pile of pollution that helicopter dumped into the air.

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Ask Umbra: What can I do with old CD cases?

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

I have a large collection of CDs from the ’90s and early ’00s. The CDs are stored in a wallet, but I’m not sure what to do with all my CD cases. I guess recycle the plastic and paper separately?

Justin J.
Elmhurst, Ill.

Photo by Vanessa Lynn.

A. Dearest Justin,

Your conundrum is as vexing and pervasive as a Third Eye Blind hit. I’ve given some suggestions for recycling CD cases before, but this time around I have some new material.

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My quest for a family car has ended, and the winner is …

Last week, I wrote about my quest to buy a new car. We're sick of our minivan/land yacht and want something smaller and more fuel-efficient that will nonetheless fit our whole family (and our dog) for our daily city commute.

I received all sorts of helpful advice/tips/info in the comments on that post. It made me appreciate anew the great community we have here at Grist.

After so many years of doing this, I've even come to appreciate the more ... enthusiastic feedback. I learned that I should get a new wife because mine complains too much, that I should get rid of my dog, or leave the dog at home, that I should stop being a cosseted hypocrite and start getting my kids to school and doing my errands by bus or bike, and that above all, I should never, ever say anything nice about cars generally or any car specifically and that by doing so I have disgraced myself, disgraced Grist, and most likely disgraced the baby Jesus.

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Ask Umbra: I need a book of eco-tips!

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Hi Umbra,

Can you recommend any books full of eco-friendly tips? I have Adria Vasil’s book, but I’m looking for something that might consolidate all of the information in your column.

Ashley
Calgary, Canada

Photo by Florin Gorgan.

A. Dearest Ashley,

Before I answer your question, a wee prologue. Dearest readers, please consider allocating a bit of your budget to Grist -- tomorrow is the final day of our fundraising campaign, and we need 3,000 gifts of any size to earn a bonus $25,000. We could sure use your help.

Now back to our regularly scheduled advice column. You people still read books? This is very heartening. I do have recommendations for you, and I hope your fellow dearest readers will also weigh in with comments below.

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Umbra’s second helpings: Giving green wedding presents without looking weird

This year marks the 10th anniversary of our Ask Umbra advice column, and to celebrate, we’re pulling one particularly poignant question or tidbit of eco-advice out of the archives each week. Recent news has us thinking about something old, something newsomething borrowedsomething blue. Without further adieu, here's an old but ever true dilemma from a partygoer in Utah:

"My wife and I have made great progress in simplifying our lives ... We’re just wondering what we might give as wedding gifts to children of our friends in order to be in line with our goal yet not seem 'weird.' Any ideas on this subject?"

Read on for Umbra’s ideas. Her advice on gifts for gay couples might surprise you. 

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