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Umbra on dishwashers

Dear Umbra, I'm in the market for a new dishwasher, one that uses as little water and energy as possible and still gets that flatware sparklin' clean. But I don't have a lot of dough to blow on appliances. Any thoughts? DeanOrem, Utah Dearest Dean, I really can't say enough about Consumer Reports and its online archives of product reviews and ratings. The subscription is worth the $4.95 per month. An Energy Star-bellied dishwasher.Photo: U.S. DOE. I approached buying a dishwasher by cross-referencing the Consumer Reports recommendations with handy Energy Star ratings. Energy Star is a labeling project of the …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Umbra on eco-friendly birth control

Dear Umbra, I am wondering about the most environmentally safe form of birth control. From what I understand, women's birth control pills put terrible amounts of hormones into the world's waters and cause genetic mutations in fish. On the other hand, constantly using and discarding plastic condoms, including the packaging these come in, does not seem like a great solution. Are there more options out there that would cause less harm to my body and the environment? Thanks, AdinaOak Park, Ill. Dearest Adina, Safety Pup would like to remind us all that birth control is not the only concern during …

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Michelle Nijhuis reviews Entering the Stone by Barbara Hurd

On the fourth of July this year, I went underground -- under the Chihuahuan Desert, that is, and into the famous Carlsbad Caverns. Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico has been hosting tourists for the better part of a century, so it's got a lot of experience with showing itself off. The fabulous limestone decorations are subtly lit (a Hollywood lighting expert helped out with the placement of the bulbs), the paths are paved and protected by handrails, and large-capacity elevators whisk you up to the daylight. Carlsbad Caverns. Photo: NPS. It wasn't until a guide took a …

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Eco-friendly supplies and clothes for back to school and beyond

The beginning of the school year -- already a stressful time for kids and parents -- is often made even more difficult by all the purchasing pressure, from long lists of school supplies sent home by teachers to ads promoting fashionable new wardrobes for children. In 2003, Americans will spend $14.1 billion on back-to-school items, with $6.5 billion of that going towards clothes. In addition to the dent in parents' wallets, there are environmental and social costs to all this school-related spending. Long before little Chloe or Carson proudly marches into school in that brand-new T-shirt, its manufacturing processes may …

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Going Bananas

Philippine Journalists Arrested for Reporting on Illegal Pesticide Use Four journalists working in the Philippines, including a New York Times correspondent, have been arrested on libel charges because of articles and columns they wrote in 2000 about the use of illegal pesticides at a banana plantation. Also arrested was Romeo Quijano, a professor of medicine at the University of the Philippines and president of the Pesticide Action Network Philippines, who was the main source of information for the journalists' stories. According to Quijano's investigations, 700 residents of a community near the banana plantation were stricken with health problems because of …

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I Love Trash

New Fuel Cell Uses Bacteria to Generate Power Maybe it's not just a Back to the Future fantasy: If scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst keep making progress in developing a "microbial fuel cell," one day trash might be able to power any number of devices (though probably not a time-traveling DeLorean). In an article in the journal Nature Biotechnology, researchers describe a new, highly efficient type of fuel cell that uses a recently discovered bacteria to turn garbage into electricity. "We are not going to be adding to the power grid at any significant rate soon," said …

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Wood You Look at That?

Boise Cascade Praised for Eco-friendly Policies It's not often that an environmental organization takes out a full-page ad in the New York Times to praise a forest-products company, so it's safe to say that Boise Cascade Corp. has done something extraordinary. This week, the company reconfirmed its commitment to phasing out old-growth harvesting in the U.S. by 2004 and agreed to adopt new eco-friendly policies, including no longer buying wood from endangered forests, giving purchasing preference to suppliers whose wood comes from certified forests, and tracking the origin of wood products it buys from other suppliers. In the eyes of …

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Umbra on wedding presents

Dear Umbra, My wife and I have made great progress in simplifying our lives. We don't own a car (we take the bus, walk, bike, and occasionally rent a car), we have cut back on our use of water and power, and we are working on avoiding "more stuff." 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? Peter Poulsen Murray, Utah Dear Peter, I am mulling over this dilemma as well. By the time 2003 …

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Umbra on bathing

Dear Umbra, On a link that I got from Grist's Do Good section, it says that taking baths instead of showers conserves water. What's the logic behind this? I measured how much water I use when I shower, and it's about a quarter of the amount that I use for baths. So it doesn't make much sense that bathing conserves more water than showering. Am I just weird or is there another reason? Jesse Ross-SilvermanNorthampton, Mass. Dearest Jesse, I'm not the best judge of your weirdness. First, I know next to nothing about you, and second, I'm a little weird …

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