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YES! But How? :: Sustainble Wedding Rings

If you're searching for practical ways to live sustainably, just ask us.

WEDDING RINGS

Ring Image
Rings can be recycled. Old stones can be removed and re-set and metals can be melted and re-shaped.

I have recently become engaged and my fiancé and I are now in the process of finding wedding rings. Are there diamonds that haven't been linked to exploited people or land? Are there more sustainable types of metals or jewels you might recommend?

Diamonds associated with violence are referred to as “blood diamonds” (or “conflict diamonds”). The diamond trade has funded and fueled civil wars in diamond-rich countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Some jewelers have independently stopped selling blood diamonds. Several web sites, including Amnesty International (www.amnestyusa.org/diamonds/) provide a list of jewelers for “clean diamond imports.” Those who stock clean diamonds have storefront decals to alert customers to their guarantee. You can ask your jeweler for verification of their diamond sources.

While buying from these jewelers will protect people from exploitation, the same can't be said for the environment. Diamonds, gemstones, and metals are all mined—a process that consumes vast quantities of water and oil and creates millions of tons of waste per year.

The best way to avoid exploiting both land and people is to restore or recycle old jewelry. Buying jewelry from antique dealers or using heirlooms can make a beautiful alternative to a new ring. Or take the jewelry sitting unworn in your jewelry box to a local jeweler, who can melt old metal to create a new band or reuse old gems to create a new setting. If you are wary about recycling your own jewelry, try garage sales and pawnshops. One last alternative is to use something nontraditional but meaningful to you, such as a stone, pebble, or sea glass found on a memorable trip.

Awareness of the issues surrounding “blood diamonds” have increased in recent years, and in April 2003, both Congress and the House of Representatives approved the Clean Diamond Trade Act. The legislation, if signed by the president, would guarantee the United State's participation in the Kimberely Process Certification Scheme, which creates international standards on diamond exports.

—Megan Tady


DISHWATER DETERGENT

What is the most environmentally friendly dishwashing detergent? We use the dishwasher because it's water-efficient, but all the commercial detergents have a lot of bleach in them. When the washer is running, I hate to go in the kitchen for the bleach fumes. The eco brands (7th Generation, Ecover) are incredibly expensive. Are they worth it, or is there another alternative?

I have a friend who passes out if she stands near the dishwasher due to the bleach fumes, but a doctor recently reported that the bleach and chlorine fumes at the dosage you would be exposed to haven't been scientifically proven harmful to humans. Even so, the phosphates (water softeners) in the detergent are potent fertilizers that will eventually drain into watersheds.

One solution came from Joanna Wilkinson, a YES! reader. She wrote in with the cost-effective suggestion of using borax and washing soda as a dishwasher detergent. A 2 to 1 ratio of borax to washing soda will take care of the job, but you should not let the washing soda come into contact with your skin. Washing soda is similar to baking soda (it can be found in the laundry section of most supermarkets), but has a pH of 11 and is caustic, so protect your hands with a pair of rubber kitchen gloves.

Washing soda works well if you have soft water. Hard water will leave a film on glasses. Eco brands, such as Seventh Generation and Ecover, will generally be more expensive than the other brands but work well with any type of water (and they're chlorine and phosphate free). To help offset the cost, Seventh Generation offers coupons on their website at www.seventhgen.com.

—Jeremy Eckert and Annie Berthold-Bond

Borax and baking soda image
Borax and Baking Soda are two key ingredients for natural cleaning products. Not only are they environmentally friendly, but they are also significantly cheaper than other products.

TOUGH GROUT STAINS

Is there an effective solution for cleaning stains from tile grout? I've tried every nontoxic option I know and still have black stains on white grout.

Getting stains out of tile grout can be difficult because grout is porous, so it can absorb cleaning products without removing mildew, mold, and dirt stains.
Borax and baking soda are mild abrasives and will neutralize odors but for strong stains, use 3

percent hydrogen peroxide. If you have colored tiles or grout and are afraid of the possibility of bleaching, combine washing soda (see previous response on dishwashing detergent) and water into a paste and rinse well. Scour with a toothbrush for tough stains. There are also many non-toxic products you can purchase and, although costly, they may be more effective. Try a product like Natural Choices' Oxy Grout, which contains no dyes, phosphates, perfumes, or fillers.

In the future, take preventive measures. Clean spills immediately. In the bathroom, run a towel over shower tiles after use to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

—Megan Tady


EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BATTERIES

A few years ago, I established a non-electric household. The only electric appliances I use are flashlights, a boom box, and a Sony Walkman; for these, I use batteries. I would like to know more about their most effective use.

  • Always replace your batteries at the same time. Don't mix new and old batteries, as the old batteries will deplete the new ones faster. Mixing battery types, such as alkaline with zinc carbon, will also diminish your battery's performance.
  • Cold generally increases battery longevity. Cold slows down battery discharge—this is why cars with old batteries don't start in cold weather. According to greenbatteries.com, alkaline batteries lose only 2 percent of their charge per year at room temperature in a temperate climate. Rechargeable batteries, however, lose charge quickly at room temperature, often becoming dead in a few months. They retain 90 percent of their charge if stored in the freezer. Let them return to room temperature before use.
  • The website www.otherpower.com/otherpower_battery_small.html summarizes the qualities of alkaline versus rechargeable batteries. Alkalines have a longer shelf life but they cost several hundred times more per kilowatt-hour of electricity than rechargeables, and they add substantially to landfill waste.
  • AccuCell and the Maha produce two solar battery rechargeables that are especially effective. The Solar Living Sourcebook published by Real Goods Trading Company (Hopland, CA) is one source of further information. Recommended plug-in models include the Xtreme Universal and the Energizer model, although the Energizer recharger will cost more because of the brand name.
  • Use nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeables rather than nickel cadmium (NiCad) batteries to avoid cadmium, a toxic heavy metal. NiCad batteries should never be completely emptied before recharging. NiMH batteries can be recharged anytime, be it partially drained or entirely spent.
  • The best bang for your buck with batteries depends upon how much power the battery can hold and its cost. The power capacity is measured in milliamps. In other words, you want to find the battery with the highest power capacity, which is measured in milliamps, at the lowest price. Capacity and price vary, so you can do the math.
  • Finally, alkaline batteries are no longer made with mercury so they are not classified as hazardous waste (except in a few states: SC, AK, CA, MN, and RI). All rechargeables may be recycled through Home Depot, Circuit City, Radio Shack, Wal-Mart, or other retailers, or visit www.ehso.com/ehshome/batteries.php or call the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Co., 800-8BATTERY.

 

—Jeremy Eckert and Pam Chang

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