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Market for natural personal-care products booming in spite of economy

Despite an economic slump, eco-friendly personal-care items have Americans sitting up and paying attention top dolla. Sales are booming despite high food and energy prices, and analysts predict the products' popularity won't ebb anytime soon. Chicago-based research firm Mintel reports that sales of natural personal-care products rose 12.5 percent last year to an inflation-adjusted $465 million; it estimates sales this year will hit $513 million. A combination of eco-awareness and concern about synthetic ingredients is spurring rapid growth in the natural personal-care industry, which is growing five times faster than the plain ol' personal-care industry, according to the Natural Products …

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Energy Star program needs improvement, says Consumer Reports

The U.S. EPA is facing off with Consumer Reports over the federal Energy Star program, which rates the energy efficiency of products in more than 50 categories. In a recent article, the consumer magazine declares that Energy Star "standards are too easy to reach and federal test procedures haven't kept pace with new technology," noting that product testing by manufacturers is not independently verified. Energy Star initially aimed to set high enough standards that only 25 percent of products in a category would meet them, says the article, but now, for example, 60 percent of dehumidifiers are Energy Star-rated. EPA's …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Judging a tomato contest, and celebrating with a fresh, tomato-y gumbo

You say tomato ... All my life, I have wanted to be a professional tomato taster. I am happy to report that on August 18, 2008, I had the chance to serve as a judge (unpaid, so, OK, not exactly professional, but still ...) in the 24th annual Massachusetts tomato contest, organized by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and held at City Hall Plaza in downtown Boston. I was actually just chilling with friends who were going to serve as judges (How pathetic is that? I am a tomato taster groupie!) when -- oh lucky day! …

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Umbra on being an energy-efficient renter

Dear Umbra, I'm an apartment dweller in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it doesn't get too cold or too hot. Still, my energy bill is much too high for my liking and I'm wondering what I can do to bring down the cost and the waste. Any suggestions for non-homeowners? Sarah J. Oakland, Calif. Dearest Sarah, Renting is a blessing and a curse: little control, and little responsibility. You don't get to make long-term, expensive investments, but you can certainly undergo behavior modifications to reduce your energy bills. I've offered the generally recommended steps over the years, and I'm …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Transportation stuff

Still catching up with stuff I missed. On the public transportation front, check out this article about the rare prospect of having an Amtrak fan (Biden) in the White House, a cool chart from Brookings comparing Obama and McCain on a range of important transportation issues, and this happy AP story about transit ridership skyrocketing.

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Just the third R, thanks

When the city of London, Ontario, banned bottled water, Refreshments Canada ("voice of the non-alcoholic beverages industry") lamented "a real missed opportunity to do something positive for the environment." Come again? It seems London passed up "a chance to expand recycling." Really. Awesome.

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Slower

Kent A. Sepkowitz doesn't mention it in this op-ed about lowering auto speeds, but it would save a heck of a lot of gas too. I'm sure politicians will be eager to propose it!

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Newest iPod nano is ‘toxic free’

The newly unveiled update of the iPod nano is slender and sexy, equipped with "shake-to-shuffle" capability, and eco-friendly to boot. (Well, you don't actually have to boot it ... oh, whatever.) Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who is alive and kicking despite reports to the contrary, says the music player is Apple's "cleanest" and most "toxic free" offering. The device contains no arsenic, brominated flame retardants, mercury, or PVC, says Jobs, and is "highly recyclable." Apple has agreed to keep flame retardants and PVC out of all of its products after Jan. 1, 2009, and that's music to our ears.

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Eleven organic breakfast cereals get put to the spoon

The scene was surreal ... I mean, cereal. I awoke from deadline-anxiety dreams one Sunday morning, and crept down to the kitchen at the farmhouse where I work. There I found a dozen people chomping breakfast cereal, scribbling down notes, and trading bon mots. Coincidentally, the farmhouse had been packed with guests that weekend, including a crew of cereal-loving Germans. We also had some visitors of the banjo-playin', fiddlin' variety -- and they, too, took great relish in the cereal-tasting task. To my eternal delight, I heard one of the Germans regaling the fiddlers between bites with tales of his …

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Umbra on bedbugs

Dear Umbra, I desperately need your help. My house has become infested with bedbugs! I'm trying to find an environmentally friendly way to get rid of them. I've tried a thorough cleaning and tried using diatomaceous earth (fossil shell flour) to no avail. The local exterminator is looking more and more appealing. Please stop me before I do something rash like resorting to him and the nasty chemicals he'll be using. Ofer Pasadena, Calif. Dearest Ofer, Yipes. Would it help to know that you are not alone, or is that cold comfort? Can I distract you by offering scintillating scientific …

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