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Q. Dear Umbra,

Hey! This whole freakin’ deal about aluminum, steel, and plastic bottles is bewildering. I wanted to get a BPA-free Nalgene, but should I buy an aluminum instead? I don’t have or see the use to spend $20USD for a darn bottle. What’s the best way to go?

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A. Dearest Jay,

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water drinkerTo sip, perchance to dream.Hey yourself! This can indeed be a bewildering topic, made even more so by recent revelations that one trusted brand of aluminum bottle contained BPA in its lining.

Even though it’s a New Year, I’m going to stand by some Olde Umbra Advice: Do not buy a plastic bottle. Although Nalgene and other plastic-bottle makers have proudly and loudly eschewed BPA in many of their products, this does not mean we don’t have other problems with plastics. They are toxic and resource-intensive to manufacture, they can pose various health problems, and there’s no good way to dispose of them. (If for some reason you decide you absolutely must have a plastic bottle, choose BPA-free of course, and avoid #3, #6, and #7.)

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As for your other choices, I personally would opt for stainless steel over aluminum. Although steel is a tad heavier than aluminum, it doesn’t need to be lined with anything potentially toxic, and it tends to be cheaper. Plus: It’s stainless! Doesn’t that sound fresh and clean!

One more thought, Jay: Is it possible that you don’t need a water bottle at all? Many of us get by in life without one. But if your lifestyle does require a liquid transport system, I heartily endorse your desire to invest in a permanent option over disposable bottles — and I think you will find that the one-time investment of $15 or $20 pays off quite quickly.


Q. Dear Umbra,

We need to replace our 28-year-old electric clothes dryer. I know a gas dryer will use less energy, but since the natural gas enters our home at the far other end of the house from our dryer and there is no gas connection near the dryer, it will cost substantially more to switch to gas than just the modest extra cost of the gas dryer itself. We dry about half our clothes on racks and our electricity is 100% wind (ie, we pay a wind premium). Would it be environmentally evil of us to just get another electric dryer?

Judy H.
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

A. Dearest Judy,

If only you could hang your wet clothes to dry on the horns of this dilemma.

My advice is going to be relatively quick and dirty: First, if you can dry all of your clothes on racks, do it. Read our interview with Alexander Lee of Project Laundry List to find out why.

Second, if you can find any way to install a gas dryer, do it. Is it possible to move the location of your dryer to the “far other end of the house” where the gas line is? Would that make the necessary plumbwork any cheaper and easier? It’s difficult for me to say, without having seen your house or met your gas person, but I’d investigate that option. Gas dryers use far less energy and are gentler on clothes. They can save up to 50 percent of laundry-related costs, and though they do cost more up front, they pay for themselves in not too long a time.

Third, don’t let the fact that you “pay a wind premium” lull you into making lazy choices. I’m glad your utility offers that option, and glad you take them up on it, and I see that Saratoga Springs has made some heavy investments in wind. But are you sure the electricity that powers your house is 100 percent wind? I don’t have time to properly investigate, but I hope you will.

Finally, if you do end up buying an electric dryer, be sure to look for one with a moisture sensor, which will keep it from working overtime. Use the dryer as little as possible. And don’t beat yourself up too much.


P.S.: Natural gas is not without its drawbacks. If you have not focused on the proposed Marcellus Shale natural gas project in New York, do so. Here is a recent piece from your very own Saratogian about it, although you don’t have to go far to find much, much more.

Q. Hi Umbra,

I love your column and am a longtime reader, first-time asker. I’m also a yoga teacher who spends a lot of time using tea-light candles. I was just wondering if the little metal cups they come in are recyclable. Thanks!


A. Dearest K.,

Ooh, Sydney. Yoga and candles in Sydney. I think I’m in heaven.

As with all such recycling questions, I must refer you to your local authorities. I’m not sure what your tea-light cups are made of — most seem to be aluminum, but I don’t know how they do it in Sydney — nor am I sure what’s recyclable in your particular neighborhood. So definitely check with the good folks at your nearest solid-waste facility.

However, I have some other thoughts for you. The first is: Do you absolutely need to use tea lights? Couldn’t you burn small votive candles in reusable containers, thereby avoiding the waste-cup problem entirely? Some people groan about having to scrape wax out of the holders, but those people are unenlightened. I know you will ascend above that concern.

If for some reason you must continue to use tea lights, I am discovering that there is no shortage of people who have very inventive ideas for reusing the cups. Pincushion holders! Wind chimes! Holiday decorations! Ashtrays! Bird alarms! Look around the web for these and other creative-verging-on-nutty suggestions.

Whatever candles you choose, be sure they are free of lead, petroleum, and the other nasties that are found in many conventional varieties. Oh look! More Umbra advice on candles, just in the wick of time.