YES! But How? :: Work With, Not Against, Nature

Searching for simple and practical ways to live sustainably?


I have heard that using bleached tampons or super-absorbent tampons with rayon can be harmful to women's health. What is so harmful about these tampons and do you have an inexpensive solution? Unbleached, all-cotton tampons are so much more expensive, and I'm also concerned about the effect of tampons on the environment.

Bleached tampons—the kind you'll find on most drugstore shelves—may expose users to dioxin, a highly carcinogenic substance that is a by-product of the chlorine bleaching process. Though most tampon manufacturers insist they test for the presence of chlorine, bleaching still makes many women nervous. Also, the more absorbent a tampon is, the higher the percentage of rayon it contains, since the fiber holds more liquid than cotton.Rayon, however, promotes growth of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus which causes Toxic Shock Syndrome,a potentially deadly disease.Women can lower their risk by not using “super” tampons. You're right to be concerned about the environmental impact of tampons, because one woman uses a staggering 10,000 tampons over the course of her reproductive life.

The good news is that there are reusable options that are cost effective and environmentally friendly.Two of our favorites are menstrual cups and reusable pads. Menstrual cups are made of natural rubber or silicone and are worn internally. Users rave about how comfortable they are. At $35 per cup, the up-front cost may seem high, but contrasted with the ongoing monthly expense of tampons, the cup is a bargain. They can be ordered online at or For women who prefer an external pad, cotton cloth is a great alternative. Purchase or make your own. Learn more at or

—Meredith Dearborn



I am starting to get restless indoors and want to begin my garden planning. I have to say, though, that I am getting tired of all that weeding, watering, and lawn-mowing. But I still want a beautiful garden. Do you have any magic tricks? Inspire me!

Your question came just at the right time. I am sprouting mung beans on my windowsill, and it's not just fortheir great nutritional value. Though my body sure appreciates the extra vitamins, I believemy soul longs to see things grow again.

I am with you on the tiring weeding and mowing and watering. To escape the drudgery, I suggest you get rid of (some of) your lawn, go local, and try working with, not against, nature this year.

There are different ways to keep open spaces without having a lawn:Wooden decks are dry spaces to play and gather. Attractive mulched, tiled or cobblestone paths and mowed paths in fields give access to your garden. Raised outlooks, steps, or tree houses create varied perspectives. Benches, tree trunks, large rocks and hammocks provide spaces to rest If you still want a lawn, choose the size based on the use you havein mind.

Native prairie grasses like Buffalo grass and Blue Grama grass make excellent lawn substitutes, and thrive with little water in the Great Plains and California. In more humid climates,native mosses can take over if you let them, forming a soft, velvety ground cover.

Less lawn means more space fornative flowers, shrubs, and trees—plants that are by definition stronga nd well-adapted. Choose plants suited to your particular climate zone—seven zones spanning

To learn more, contact native plant organizations in your area. The North American Native Plants Society has a list of regional associations at Two fine reference books are Carole Rubin's How to Get Your Lawn off Grass and Ken Druse's The Natural Habitat Garden.

—Lilja Otto



When I can't find food that is both local and organic, which should I prioritize?

Tempted to snub those regional apples in favor of shiny organic Chileanones? Or enjoy organic raspberries in December when local ones aren't available?

Yes, the organic label means those foods were farmed via environmentally sustainable methods and are free of genetic engineering, pesticides, and hormones. But just because your foodis labeled “organic” doesn't mean it's necessarily better than what's available just down the road.

Most often, buying local is not only better for the Earth, but better for you and your community.

A 2005 report published in the journal Food Policy calculated that buying foods grown within a 12-mile radius was less environmentally costly than buying organic, non-local foods. And researchers from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa found locally and regionally based meals used four to 17 times less fuel during transport than a meal from the conventional food system.(Not to mention all the costs of refrigeration and packaging.)

In an industry dominated by corporate agribusiness, buying local supports the growing movement toward sustainable food production. Brian Halweil of the Worldwatch Institute estimates that the typical U.S. wheat farmer receives only six cents per dollar spent on a loaf of bread. By shortening the retail chain between you and the grower, you increase the amount of money he or she receives. Not only does this allow family farmers to maintain a time-honored tradition, but it protects farmland from development, boosts your local economy,and ensures food security for your community.

Local food is generally fresher, so it's tastier and more nutritious—as anyone who's ever eaten a freshly picked tomato can attest. Produce begins deteriorating the moment it is picked, as the natural sugars turn to starches and enzymes destroy nutrients. Eating locally also means using what's available seasonally, thus reconnecting us with the natural cycles of the Earth.

For help finding local produce,check out And check out to find what's in season when and recipes for how to enjoy it!

—Elle McPherson


Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the plastic used in most yoga mats, raises health and environmental concerns. PVC additives leach out and can buildup in your body and in the environment. PVC does not degrade, and is extremely difficult to recycle. When burned it releases dioxin, a toxic substance that can cause cancer.

Fortunately, there are ecofriendlyalternatives, such as natural rubber, jute, latex, and hemp. EcoYoga () makes a mat with a pure rubber underside and jute fabric/rubber mix on top. It has no synthetic additives or plastic components and is completely biodegradable. Try also Jade's Harmony mat () and MinaSai's hemp and rubber mat ().

—Elle McPherson

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