YES! But How? :: E-Voting, Shaving, Scorpions, Paper v. Plastic

Searching for simple and prctical ways to live sustainably? Want to be part of the solution? Looking to create a safer world for yourself and your family?


How do you register to vote on the Internet? What is the process in different states? —Caroline Fotinakes, via e-mail

Registering to vote online is becoming an increasingly popular way for new voters to register and for veteran voters to re-register when they move. The best way to insure that you meet state requirements is to visit your Secretary of State or Election Commission's website and register online there. New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Wyoming do not allow online registration.

Because states require a signature on voter applications, online registration is not as simple as a few mouse clicks. There are two methods of registering online. You can fill out a registration form on a website, print it out, and mail it in, or you can submit the form online and the state will print a paper form, mail it to you for your signature, and then you will have to mail it back. Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, and South Carolina require their forms to be submitted on a heavier weight paper than normally used in copy machines or printers, but if you can find the right paper, you can register online.

One alternative to tracking down your state's registration website is to use a generic registration site such as Simply click on your state and the website pulls up the appropriate voter registration form. Fill out the form, print it out, and mail it to your state elections office. New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming do not use the National Voter Registration form used on this site.

—Krista Camenzind


Which is more environmentally friendly, wet shaving with a blade or dry shaving with an electric razor? —Marshall Welch, Salt Lake City, Utah

To shave or not to shave, that is the question. Clearly, growing a beard and trimming it with scissors is the most sustainable option. But if you find a beard unbecoming, uncomfortable, or unprofessional, there are several factors to consider in choosing between old fashioned or electric.

If you go old fashioned, rather than running the tap, fill a small bowl or basin with water to rinse your blade, as this will conserve water. To reduce waste, choose a razor that disposes only the blade and not the whole body, and use a good quality razor--—I get considerably more shaves with the more expensive blades. Finally, use a brush and soap instead of the cans of cream. This reduces waste and is much more elegant.

If you go electric, find out where your electricity is coming from. Hydroelectric, while not benign because of dams and the flooding of canyons, is (whether you like it or not) a renewable resource and if used during off-peak hours is a good sustainable alternative. Also consider that a great deal of energy and nonrenewable resources go into manufacturing an electric razor. Weigh this against the potential waste from an efficient old-fashioned method and you may find that the good old razor is not such a wasteful alternative.

Different regions have different environmental constraints. Educate yourself about your local environment. Because you live in a desert, water is a precious and often non-renewable resource. Find out where your tap water is coming from. If even part of it is coming from an underground aquifer, you want to limit your consumption of water as much as possible because many underground aquifers in the West are being depleted faster than they are replenished. If, for example, you get your electricity from a coal-fired power plant and you live in a more pluvial (rain soaked) environment, you may want to use a little more water and save the electricity.

—Dylan Chalk


We've got scorpions that come into my home uninvited almost every night. I don't want to call pest control because they will only spray inside the house and the creatures don't live here; they crawl in from the neighboring lot. —Kenia, via e-mail

The first and most crucial step is depriving scorpions of their habitat. Clear the area immediately surrounding the home of trees, shrubs, stones, bricks, woodpiles, loose boards, old appliances, etc. Fill in any cracks or openings in the foundation and walls, window- and door frames, attic and roof. Fill openings made for water pipes, electrical conduits and vent stacks. Weatherstrip doors and windows as well. Inside, seal baseboards, cabinets, light fixtures and other openings. Scorpions can enter a home through a hole 1/8 inch in diameter, so the task can be daunting; you may want professional help.

Information on natural scorpion repellents is largely lacking. Anecdotal reports suggest that diatomaceous earth sprinkled in typical hiding places (e.g., behind the stove, beneath the sink) may reduce infestations. One person recommended using boric acid. Another recommended sprinkling mint outside around the house or boiling jalapeños in water and pouring the solution on the ground (this works for other types of insects such as bees and ants as well). There's also a plant called the Cateye, a kind of cactus, which grow flowers that scorpions are reputed to detest. People actually groom these plants for their aromatic odor, so don't worry—they shouldn't be offensive to you.

—Jack Brondum

Paper bags require more trees to be grown and cut and plastic bags last forever in landfills; both can be recycled. What's the latest thinking on which of these is the most sustainable choice? —Susana Hernandez, via e-mail

Neither bag material is very sustainable. Producing plastic bags creates less air, water, and solid waste pollution than producing paper bags. And because plastic is considerably lighter than paper, it takes less energy to transport and uses less landfill space. Also, in many modern landfills, even biodegradable materials, such as paper, degrade very slowly or not at all. But plastic is far from perfect; unlike paper it comes from a non-renewable resource, petroleum, and is not biodegradable.

The best sustainable option is to bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store. According to the environmental mantra of reduce, reuse, and recycle, the most sustainable choice begins by reducing waste in the first place. Try to ask yourself, “Do I need a bag?” instead of “Which type of bag should I use?” Make your cloth bags accessible, so it becomes second nature to reach for your bags before going to the store. Since I tend to be forgetful, I keep a few of my organic cotton totes in my car, my purse, and hanging right next to my door as a visual reminder to use them.

—Rachel Milanez


I find myself using way too much bottled water from the store (0.5 liter or 1 liter), mostly for convenience, when I'm on the road, going to a soccer game, etc. What works better? (I do refill the containers until they get lost or get gross.) —Leonard Braven, Orlando, Florida

Plastic water bottles may be convenient, but they are hazardous to your health and the environment. Many of the materials used to create plastic bottles, including lead, cadmium, mercury, and carcinogens leach into the contents of the bottle. That's not to mention the toxins that are released into the environment during manufacturing, as well as the number of plastic bottles that litter landfills (see “Bottled Water Flim-Flam” ).

Reusing plastic bottles creates another vicious cycle of health hazards. Most plastic bottles are FDA-approved for one-time-use only, and bacteria will accumulate in the bottle after multiple uses. Cleaning and disinfecting the bottles only worsens the problem, because heat and handling helps to break down the bottles and speeds up the leaching process.
For kids, who probably can't bring glass bottles to school, try replacing those flimsy plastic juice boxes with a reusable water bottle that doesn't leach toxins, such as the “Good Bottle” by Marilyn Farms ().

—Megan Tady

Editor's note: (added 11/17/03) Additional info on lexan/polycarbonate bottles, researchers have found that after washing, polycarbonate may leach bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical that mimics the hormone estrogen: "Most at risk, says Colborn, are people with developing endocrine systems: pregnant women and newborns, followed by young children, and women who might get pregnant. Hunt says that if she had an infant, she would switch to polypropylene (#5 PP), which is not known to leach harmful substances. (Other plastics that are not known to leach are #2 HDPE and #4 LDPE. "Single use" plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate [#1 PET or PETE] are not recommended for repeat use; one study found that they may break down and release the suspected carcinogen DEHA.) Or you could avoid plastic altogether and switch to glass or lightweight stainless steel containers. "

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