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Q. Dear Umbra,

I need to replace my eyewear—the lenses need updating and the frames are damaged—and I’m wondering what the most sustainable choice is. Frameless seems likely, but if I want to go with a frame (Coke bottle lenses, anyone?) then is metal the way to go?

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Hope K.
Providence, R.I.

A. Dearest Hope,

Dog wearing glassesAs a fellow four-eyes, I feel you on the eyewear woes. I’ve worn glasses since I was a wee little Umbra, valiantly reaching out of my crib for my spectacles each morning so I could get back to perusing my pureed-carrot–stained copy of Silent Spring. I digress.

You say your frames are damaged. What’s wrong with them? A missing screw? Bent arm? Anything some geek-chic masking tape wrapped ‘round the nose bridge won’t fix? I say give the repair route a go for starters. And if they’re beyond refurbishing for your own wear or you’re just ready for a new look, go ahead and donate your old glasses to an organization like the Lions Club or New Eyes for the Needy.

Now when it comes to shopping for specs, definitely try to avoid ones made from new plastic—as you know, it’s petroleum-based and will never fully biodegrade. Plastic frames do tend to be less expensive than their metal counterparts though, so if you’re looking to save some green and our green planet, look for frames made from recycled plastic. Reclaimed metal frames are another recycled option. ICU Eyewear, for example, has some cool readers made from reclaimed plastic, recycled metal, and bamboo.

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A note on frameless glasses: Oddly, they can be a bit more expensive than their framed cousins; plus, they’re more susceptible to damage than glasses with frames, which could lead to having to replace them more quickly anyway. However, yes indeed, they do require fewer materials up front than framed lenses.

And whether you’re a hipster and want to wear them ironically, a poser, or just a regular nerd like myself, vintage (read: secondhand) frames are pretty rad. A pal o’ mine inherited his grandpa’s old black Buddy Holly–style frames and just got them fitted with lenses in his own prescription.

Also, you mentioned Coke bottle glasses, but have you ever considered Sprite bottle glasses? Someone did. I wonder what prescription Sprite bottles typically come in…


Q. Dear Umbra,

My 3-year-old’s school encourages kids to get involved with a twice-yearly Walk to School Week. The idea is to get kids to exercise more, parents to drive less, and all of us to think of walking as a normal, healthy daily activity. So far, so good.

The trouble is that we don’t live anywhere near close enough actually to walk from home to school. And there’s no public transportation between our house and the school. We have no choice but to drive the kid every day.

The Walk to School Week organizers have a clever solution to this: I am supposed to drive my car around to a parking lot in the village (which is a slightly farther distance for me to drive), and then park the car and have my kid walk a meaningless 200 yards to school. The kids stationed at the school door, counting the numbers of their peers walking each morning, will put a check mark in their clipboards, my son will get a sticker, and everyone will pat themselves on the back for saving the planet.

Am I crazy to think this is nothing but a big fat lie? I’m all for kids learning about the environment in fun, participatory ways, but isn’t this just fake action? Should we really be telling our kids that it’s OK to pretend to walk to school—that it’s enough just to take part, even if you don’t actually save any carbon emissions (or even create more) in the process? I would prefer that kids who need to go by car be encouraged to do something else to offset their commute during the week, but my husband is worried I’m just going to get our family branded as a bunch of spoilsport eco-freaks if I raise a fuss.

Am I making too much of this?  Should I just smile and say a couple hundred yards of fresh air will do us all good?

Mrs. Welshie
Buckinghamshire, England 

A. Dear Mrs. Welshie,

Yes, you are crazy. Crazy like a fox, my friend. If, like the venerable Ms. Whitney Houston, you believe the children are our future and that we should teach them well and let them lead the way, then I give you a big virtual high five for not wanting to perpetuate this myth of the pretend walk to school.

When I was 9, my class did a trash pickup around the school grounds for a display we were creating for the lobby. We wanted to show kids (and adults) what a littered mess we had in our own backyard. Once the display of milk cartons, torn handouts, soda cans, cigarette butts, and plastic bottle caps was set, we needed a big, brazen sign to announce our message. My school was so freaking proud of its hoity-toity “School of Excellence” designation—seriously, they referred to it in the morning announcements, on our lunch menus, and in ginormous script on a wall at the front of the school. So my renegade idea for the sign was: “This is your School of Excellence!” My teacher thought it was too edgy. Sigh.

Point being, kids are pretty savvy about what’s real and what’s just for show. I think pomp for pomp’s sake sends an icky message. But no kid wants to stick out like a sore thumb, even at age 3. 

So what to do about it? Well, you’re going to have to step up. Find out who’s in charge of Walk to School Week; let them know your concerns and tell them you’d really like to be involved in heading up the initiative for the kids who must be driven to school. I really liked your idea of encouraging the car-riding kids to do something else to offset their commute during the week. Perhaps they could go vegetarian that week, not watch TV, or agree to walk other places closer to home.

I’ll bet there are other parents who will hop on your bandwagon. And if this is just the beginning of your kid’s school years, it’s a great way to start off your involvement.


Q. Dear Umbra,

With Easter fast upon us, do you have some eco-friendly chocolate alternatives for the kids’ Easter baskets?

Leah J.
Eaton Rapids, Mich.

A. Dearest Leah,

Ah, foregoing chocolate because of this little gem? Yeah, it put me off the sweets a bit as well. Definitely reject all the little plastic Easter trinkets. Easter means different things to different people, but when I think of it, I think eggs. And when I think eggs, I think chickens. And then I start thinking about the gnarliness of industrial chicken farming and the lack of strict regulation around terms like “cage free” and “free range.”

But all these mental dominoes do give me an idea for better Easter basket filler for your kiddies: eggs and chickens. Stick with me here. Start off by scouring for local, pastured eggs; hard boil them, and then dye them naturally with a little help from Martha and some red cabbage, turmeric, onions, beets, and coffee.

And if you really want to go whole hog, er, chicken with this, you can add a baby chick or two to the basket—pending that you actually want to and are permitted by the city to own backyard chickens in your neck of the woods. Only do this if you’re truly up for the responsibility, as I’m guessing all manner of baby chicks and rabbits find themselves homeless each year shortly after Easter. The chicks won’t yet be big enough to need a coop, so a lined box will suffice in the beginning. In four to five months, they’ll start producing eggs—ah, the gift that keeps on giving.

Not satisfied with snagging chicks for your offspring? Check out my column on holiday gifts for kids (hint: Steer clear of stuff).