YES! But How? :: Glass, Plastic, or Aluminum, Bike Chains

Drink Containers, eco-friendly bicycle chain lubricants, moss control, live sustainably, homemade toothpaste, natural insect repellent, garlic and garden pests, moth repellent and sticky stickers


Dear Doug & Annie,

What's the relative environmental impact of glass, plastic, or aluminum drink containers? —Carol

Dear Carol:

The ubiquitous plastic container is, of course, the worst of the lot. It's made out of petroleum, which is to say you may soon have the privilege of drinking from the fruits of despoiling the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

The blithe assumption that plastics are utterly inert is now in question, since it appears that some organic compounds can leach from the container to its contents. As the plastic sits in the landfill for a millennium or two, those compounds will leach into the ground.

It takes about the same amount of energy to produce an aluminum can and a glass bottle, and about the same amount of energy to recycle them. A return to old-fashioned refilling of glass bottles, of course, would save an immense amount of energy.

The choice between glass or aluminum is easy, though, considering where they come from originally. The main ingredient in glass is the most abundant element on earth; procuring silica requires neither much shipping nor extraordinarily destructive mining.

Bauxite ore, on the other hand, comes mostly from South America. Making aluminum involves not only the environmental cost of shipping big piles of ore long distances, but also the cost of giant strip mines. No contest. Glass. If you can get it.


Dear Doug & Annie,

Do you know of any vegan, eco friendly bicycle chain lubricants? —Eric

Dear Eric:

You bet! Buy pure jojoba, a liquid wax that never goes rancid. It's available in health food stores.


Dear Doug & Annie,

Being up here in Anacortes (but in your clime) I'm hoping you know how to control moss — in the driveway, paths, roofs, everywhere — in a safe, eco-friendly way. —Karen

Dear Karen:

Cleanliness is next to mosslessness. Although it often looks like moss is living on nothing, it requires food. The brisk application of a stiff broom goes a long way toward depriving moss of its lunch. Make a trip to the roof a rite of spring; clean off leaves and other organic debris. You can make this job easier by trimming trees that overhang the roof. Sounds a bit of hassle, perhaps, but it's not that much different from an annual sprinkling of zinc or iron compounds.


Dear Doug & Annie,

When I think of trying to live sustainably, I'm overwhelmed by the number of changes I need to make. I need a starting point. If I were only going to change one thing, what should it be to have the biggest impact? —Kari

Dear Kari:

If you're limited to changing one thing, change your mind. The main thing—perhaps the only thing—preventing serious consideration of sustainability in the developed world is the mythology of consumerism. Until we realize that acquisition is not the ultimate purpose of life, the notion of sustainability, of limiting consumption, makes no sense at all. But you're a YES! reader, so you've probably already made that change.

For a single transformational activity, I'd suggest looking at the part of Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, that discusses clutter, and doing an inventory with that issue in mind.

Really, though, just pick something. Change to fluorescent lights. Put on a sweater and turn down the heat. Walk to the store instead of driving. Do one of those things. Then do another. Then do some more. Maybe, after all, it's rather a quiet and gradual change.


Dear Doug & Annie,

I'd like to make my own toothpaste to avoid the detergent sodium lauryl sulfate. Straight baking soda as a toothpaste doesn't appeal to me. Any ideas? —Vincent

Dear Vincent:

The taste of baking soda can be disguised easily using the sweet herb stevia; buy the white stevia powder available in health food stores. I particularly like to add cinnamon to this recipe because cinnamon is so anti-bacterial, and nothing takes garlic breath away as well.

Stevia Toothpaste Recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon white stevia powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder Blend the ingredients in a small glass jar. Scoop on a dampened toothbrush and brush as usual.


Dear Doug & Annie,

With all the talk about Lyme's disease, meningitis, and other insect-borne diseases, I'm a bit concerned about mosquitoes and ticks. But I don't want to use any scary synthetic repellents. What would you suggest? —Sadie

Dear Sadie,

Try a natural insect repellent. Here's a formula based on essential oils that will keep mosquitoes at a safe distance. The best of herbs and essential oils for mosquitoes are pennyroyal, lemon balm (citronella), thyme, and lavender. Other possibilities include bergamot, cajeput, eucalyptus, rose geranium, myrrh, peppermint, rosemary, oil of clove, oil of nutmeg, feverfew, cinnamon stick, and mint. Note: If you're pregnant, speak with your doctor before using essential oils.

Mosquito Repellent:

  • 10 to 25 drops essential oil (see recommendations, above)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Combine the ingredients in a glass jar; stir to blend. Dab a few drops on your skin or clothing, making certain to avoid your eyes. Makes about 2 tablespoons.

Ticks are tougher to discourage than mosquitoes, but rose geranium works wonders. Other tick-repelling choices include the essential oils of bay, eucalyptus, European pennyroyal, lavender, lemon balm (citronella), myrrh, rosemary, tickweed (American pennyroyal). Use the formula above.


Dear Doug & Annie,

I used to have an old folk recipe for killing garden pests that used garlic. Do you know what that recipe would have been? —Phyllis

Dear Phyllis:

I've seen this recipe concocted in dozens of ways, all of them using very spicy cooking ingredients such as garlic, scallions, onions, horseradish root, ginger, cayenne, and other hot peppers. You can also add rhubarb leaves, but these are poisonous, so don't add them to your salad!

Garlic Garden Spray:

  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Peel and mash the garlic. Place it in a pint mason jar and cover with
  • boiling water. Screw on the lid and let sit overnight. Strain. Freeze 1 cup of the infusion to use another time; place the other in a spray bottle with 1 additional cup of water. Spray on infested area. Makes 4 cups.

You can also add 1 teaspoon liquid soap, being mindful of the fact that too much soap will kill plants.


Dear Doug & Annie,

This is in response to ongoing discussion about mothballs from the Winter and Spring 2001 issues.

For several years I have been using quite successfully a mixture of orange peel and cloves to protect woolens. I save orange peels all winter, drying them over a hot air register. In the spring I pulverize the peels in a blender and then mix them with a handful of cloves. This mixture then goes into pieces of nylon hosiery and is hung or placed wherever woolens are stored.

In Kentucky, this system protected all our sweaters, coats, blankets, etc. —Doris

Dear Doris:

Terrific. Thanks very much.

Another suggestion is an old weavers' herbal sachet for wool that includes rosemary, mint, thyme, lavender and cloves.


How about something to get those sticky stickers off of products without ruining the product. I used to use nail polish remover, but no more! —Beth L.

Dear Beth:

They are irritating, aren't they! Oil removes oil, so if the product isn't fabric or paper, apply some oil or vegetable glycerine, let it set for 10 or 15 minutes, then rub until the sticker comes off. If fabric, try white vinegar, but test the fabric or paper first in an inconspicuous place.

Annie Berthold-Bond is Green Living Channels Producer for and author of Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press) and The Green Kitchen Handbook (Harper Collins, 1997).
Doug Pibel is a freelance writer living the simple life in Snohomish, Washington.

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