YES! But How? :: Looking Polished

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


I love the look of a French manicure, but I can't stand the smell of nail polish. Can you recommend a more natural alternative?

We agree. Not only does nail polish stink, it's bad for the environment. Almost all nail polishes contain toluene, which is toxic; formaldehyde, a known carcinogen; and dibutyl phthalate, a hormone disrupter. While there are alternatives, those still contain petroleum solvents, which are stored in body fat and can even be passed on to babies through breast milk.

Fortunately, you don't have to choose between beautiful nails and protecting yourself and the environment. You can achieve the look of a French manicure sans nail polish by using a method women have used since the 1930s. It is inexpensive and simple, but you will need a few supplies: a cardboard emery board, a manicure stick (also called an orangewood manicure stick), a fine pumice sand stick, a fine-grit pumice stone block, a buffing chamois, and a nail-whitening pencil.

  • Begin by using the emery board to file your nails into the desired shape. Do this while nails are dry to prevent breakage. Uneven grain can cause uneven filing, so replace emery boards after eight uses.
  • Next, wash hands and soak them in soap and water. Sesame or avocado oil work well to soften cuticles, but you can also use a fruit acid solution, which contains alpha-hydroxy.
  • Shape cuticles using the blunt end of the manicure stick by gently pushing them back. Clean under the nails using the pointed end of the stick.
  • Dry hands and sand and buff the nails. Use the fine pumice sand stick to sand and polish nails and remove ridges. Repeat the process with the fine grit block. The buffing chamois will smooth the tops of nails for an extra shiny look. Finish by taking the nail whitening pencil and running it underneath the edge of each nail. Voila! This completes the look by brightening the tips of your nails.

For more on natural hand and nail care, see Better Basics for the Home, by Annie Berthold-Bond.

—Daina Saib


I was wondering about the value of using a garbage disposal to avoid putting food scraps in the trash. Is using a garbage disposal bad for the environment?

A garbage disposal grinds food you put in the sink and sends it into the septic tank or sewer system. It adds extra volume to your septic tank; if you are connected to your city's sewer, it puts more pressure on that system, making sewage treatment more costly. Sewer systems are designed to process pre-digested material, not fresh kitchen scraps.

A garbage disposal uses about two gallons of water per minute — about 700 gallons a year with average use. That amount of water will make seven pots of tea a day or do six loads of laundry a month. Composting kitchen waste is the best alternative. You keep material out of sewer systems and out of landfills, where even biodegradable components may not decompose for decades due to a lack of ventilation. At the same time, you create your own fertile soil, for free.

There are various composting options: an outdoor worm bin, compost tumbler, or traditional compost heap. For city dwellers, look for composters that can be used indoors. Indoor kitchen composters are fitted with charcoal filters that prevent odors. If you want to make your own, Seattle Tilth has a design for an outdoor worm bin — the same model we use here at the YES! offices.

You can also make a small, indoor worm bin out of two plastic boxes fitted with vents and drainage valves. A Tilth volunteer has been happily using one in her kitchen for two years now, and her worm soil is nutrient-rich, has great water holding capacity and smells good.

More info on composting at Request the plan for their Off the Shelf Worm Bin at: 206.633.0224, [email protected]

—Lilja Otto


The forest behind my house is full of berries and I'd hate to let them go to waste. Do you have quick and worthwhile ways of conserving this sweetness for the winter to come?

Canning is a great way to keep your consumption of local foods high even outside your area's growing season. Unless you choose locally produced jams and preserves, what you buy probably traveled hundreds of miles before the jar got to the store. Making your own is even better since you can re-use the mason jars indefinitely, have no excess packaging, and know exactly what went into the sweet spread. It's cheaper and doesn't take much time.

Got two hours? Go! The traditional jam recipe is 1:1, a pound of sugar for a pound of fruit. But I prefer less sugar, which preserves the flavor of the fresh fruit rather than just tasting sticky sweet. To make berry jam: Wash six pounds of berries, cut them into pieces or lightly crush with a potato masher to release the natural pectin. Boil in a large pot with half a cup of water, and add two ounces of pectin mixed with about seven tablespoons of brown sugar or honey — adjust the amount to your taste. Stir the pectin-sugar mix in slowly to keep it from clumping. Keep the mixture at a rolling boil for three minutes, stirring constantly. For a special touch, add a vanilla bean (cut it open and scrape out the pulp) or the peel of a pesticidefree lime while cooking and try combinations of different fruit. Put the hot jam into sterilized glass jars, screw on fresh lids, turn jars over, and let them sit upside down for five minutes. This sterilizes the air left in the jar.

For those concerned about food poisoning, making berry jams is the safest place to start, since botulism spores cannot grow in the acidic environment. For canning foods with a pH under 4.6, like most vegetables, use a pressure canner. Refrigerate jam after opening, and to keep out mold always use a clean spoon for serving.

Make sure you label your jars with the type of fruit, the cooking date and any other details — the meadow where you collected the fruit or who helped with the canning — to bring back happy memories when you eat your jam this winter.

—Lilja Otto


Indoor air can be up to 10 times more polluted than outside air. It's the top source of personal exposure to pollutants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and a major potential hazard for those suffering from asthma. People with asthma and allergies are more susceptible to airborne particles than average people. Mold is a big asthma trigger. It can grow on any surface and emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause headaches, decreased attention span, difficulty concentrating, and dizziness. Household mold can also cause allergic responses such as itchy or watery eyes, a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and throat irritation.

So what can you do? Optimize ventilation. Open up all of the doors to the rooms inside your home every day to improve air circulation; open windows when possible. Reduce relative humidity to between 30 and 50 percent to slow mold growth. You can maintain this level by using a dehumidifier and using a ventilator fan when showering or cooking.

Wash bedding weekly in water that is at least 130 degrees F to reduce dust mites, which spread mold spores. Covering pillows and mattresses with allergen-impermeable covers is also a good idea. Use washable window coverings and remove decorative objects like knick-knacks, which often become dust collectors.

If you hate to vacuum, here's some good news: people with asthma should avoid vacuuming, since it stirs up dust and other allergens, such as VOCs, or use a High Energy Particulate (HEPA) filter to reduce the release of particles. Get rid of carpets or replace them with carpets made from natural fibers. Besides absorbing dust, synthetic carpets can emit VOCs into the air for up to five years. Get rid of chemical household cleaning products, perfumes, and room deodorizers or replace them with ones that contain little or no VOCs.

More info: EPA, , and American Lung Association,

—Daina Saib

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