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Yes! But How?

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

Plastic Bottles

Glass image Photo by Justine Simon
Using glass rather than plastic is a step in the right direction.
Photo by Justine Simon

In the Winter 2004 issue, Yes! But How? stated that the Good Bottle by Marilyn Farms does not leach chemicals. I ordered some and found that they look to be the same as the Nalgene #7 bottle made of harmful lexan polycarbonate. I would like to be able to find a bottle that does not contain harmful plastics. Please help sort this out.

At the time the Winter 2004 issue went to press, we were unaware of a study that casts doubt on the safety of polycarbonate bottles. The Good Bottle is made of polycarbonate, although Marilyn Farms stands by the safety of its bottles.

The study, published by Dr. Patricia Hunt in the April 2003 issue of Current Biology, reports that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) causes a chromosomal abnormality in the oocytes or egg cells of female mice. Polycarbonate plastic is manufactured with BPA.

In her study, Hunt, a geneticist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, detected a chromosomal error in cell division known as aneuploidy. Other researches linked aneuploidy to spontaneous miscarriages and birth defects in humans.

The Bisphenol A Global Industry Group of the American Plastics Council, the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe, and the Japan Chemical Industry Association, however, dispute Hunt's findings, especially on how it applies to human reproduction or development. They claim the reproductive and development effects were not examined in Hunt's study and the experimental system used has not been validated or standardized for the evaluation of reproductive effects. They instead point to two multi-generation studies that specifically investigated the reproductive or developmental effects of BPA. The studies, one by the Research Triangle Institute and the other by the Japanese National Institute of Health Sciences, reported that BPA did not cause reproductive or development effects at any environmentally relevant dose.

At best, research on BPA is far from definitive. In the meantime, it is wise to minimize your use of plastics, as all plastics break down over time, and so have the potential to leach chemicals.

To minimize your use of plastics, we suggest the following:

  • When you need a portable container, try alternatives to plastics, especially for hot or acidic drinks. Thermoses with stainless steel or ceramic interiors may be too bulky for hiking, but could be used for your commute or car-camping.

  • When you must use plastics, choose #2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE), #4 low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and #5 polypropylene (PP). These types of plastics are not known to leach harmful chemicals. Avoid #3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC), #6 polystyrene (PS), and, according to Hunt's study, #7 polycarbonate. Plastic bottles made from #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) are for single, not multiple use.

  • When you do use plastic water bottles, store them away from heat. Hand wash them with mild detergent and rinse well. Never expose bottles to harsh chemicals, such as bleach, in cleaning.
  • —Michelle Burkhart

    CD Recycling

    I've been buying and keeping CDs over the years, and now these are gathering dust and eating space in my room. Do you have a suggestion on how I could recycle my CDs or put them to better use?

    Over the next five years, consumers in the United States will go through more than 10 billion computer disks and CDs. Clearly, the challenge of what to do with this and all technology-based waste materials needs attention.

    A number of well-established organizations that collect and recycle obsolete CDs exist, as the polycarbonate component found in CDs can be recycled and reused to create egg cartons and automotive parts.

    GreenDisk, an organization headquartered in Sammamish, Washington, cleanly disposes of and recycles electronic media devices (including CDs, DVDs, and jewel cases) and most other forms of "techno trash." EcoDisk, based in Tacoma, Washington, offers a similar service. Both organizations require a small payment to cover the costs of recycling. To learn more, call either organization or visit their websites: www.greendisk.com and www.ecodisk.com.

    A quick Internet search on CD recycling will also introduce you to a wide range of suggestions on how to reuse CDs. Popular ideas include CD coasters, art pieces, disco balls, and bird-thwarting garden devices.

    —Brian Edstrom

    Wood Protection

    Wood cleaning image Photo by Justine Simon
    A mixture of vinegar and olive oil is a great way to clean wood naturally.
    Photo by Justine Simon

    We have used spray can, petroleum-based products such as Pledge in the past to clean our cypress wood paneling. Are there any natural products that protect wood furniture, floors, and paneling?

    Yes, there are natural alternatives to petroleum-based products to protect wood furniture, floors, and paneling.

    Multiple books and websites covering alternative cleaners suggest using a mixture of vinegar and oil to clean and polish interior wood. The vinegar pulls the dirt out of the wood and the oil lubricates the wood and prevents it from drying out. Some people prefer to substitute lemon juice for the vinegar because it smells better, while others use equal parts of both.

    Experiment with different amounts to decide what you prefer. The following ratios are recommended:

    1/4 cup white, distilled vinegar (apple cider vinegar may stain)
    3 or 4 drops of oil (olive oil is best)

    Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and apply to wood. Wipe clean with a dry cloth.

    Some recipes suggest melting one tablespoon of liquid wax such as jojoba or carnauba as a final polish on occasion. Both can be found in most health food stores. Mix the melted wax with two pints of mineral oil, pour into a spray bottle, and apply to wood. Let sit for an hour and buff with a soft cloth.

    To remove watermarks on wood furniture, rub toothpaste on the stain, let dry, and remove with a soft cloth.

    See: www.ecocycle.org/hazwaste/recipes.cfm or www.wswmd.org/recipes#furn.

    —Becky Brun

    Dog Fleas

    Do you know of a recipe to get rid of the fleas on my dog and in my house?

    Care2, an environmental network, recommends mixing an equal amount of powdered eucalyptus, rosemary, fennel, yellow dock, wormwood, and rue. Put mixture in a shaker-top jar, such as a jar for parsley flakes. While brushing backward your pet's coat with your hand or a comb, sprinkle the mixture onto the base of hair‚ especially on the neck, back, and belly.

    Apply the mixture once a week. For severe infestations, apply the mixture several times a week. After each application, put your pet outside so that the fleas will vacate outside your house.

    Do remember, though, that preventing fleas from infesting your pet's coat is better than getting rid of them. Preventive measures include bathing your pet with pesticide-free shampoo, combing your pet with a flea comb, vacuuming your house and immediately discarding the dust bag, washing your pet's bedding, and mowing areas of the lawn where your pet spends time.

    Also, many pet stores and natural food stores carry herbal flea-repellent products.

    For additional information, visit www.peta.org, www.hsus.org, and www.nrdc.org.

    —Michelle Burkhart

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