Your Eco Etiquette Cheat Sheet

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

I've reached a milestone: The end of this month will mark the two-year anniversary of the Eco Etiquette advice column. And while I've received many wonderful (some wacky), thought-provoking questions over the years, the subject matter sometimes isn't enough to form the basis of an entire article.

But I want you to know that I do read each and every email I receive; which is why this week, I've decided to feature a round-up of those shorter FAQs, along with some common eco-conundrums. Consider this your Eco Etiquette cheat sheet (just please print it out on a piece of recycled paper).

*Disclaimer: While some of my environmental elucidations are based on sound science, others, of course, are more opinion-based. If you disagree, feel free to email me, above, and maybe we'll have enough fodder for a future full-length column.

Green Graciousness

I'm eco, my friends aren't. Every time I'm invited over, they're ordering takeout in Styrofoam containers, grilling up swordfish...How can I get them to change their ways?


While endangered seafood can be tough to swallow in silence, I think Michael Jackson sang it best: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change. Most people don't respond well to criticism in their own home, especially when said people are knocking themselves out trying to show you a good time with $17.99/pound swordfish steaks. (Some swordfish, by the way, are caught using environmentally friendly methods; it's the mercury levels you have to beware of.)

So if you want to change their ways, you're going to have to host them on your own turf. Do it in sustainable style, and they'll start asking you for entertaining tips. Then you can initiate the conversation.

I'm fairly "green," but there's a woman in my mommy playgroup who is such an eco know-it-all! She's scaring other moms with all her talk of toxic plastics, etc. How can I shut her up?


Sustainability show-offs are annoying, but they're rarely malicious; this mom probably thinks she's helping the group by offering her advice ad nauseam. So the next time she peers at little Johnny's lunch with a disapproving nod and starts talking pesticides and autism, don't engage her; she'll think you're actually interested in her expertise and prattle on. A simple smile and a "Thanks, that's good advice," will stroke her eco ego and stop the conversation dead in its tracks.

This Way or That Way

My daughter keeps harping on me to swap out my light bulbs, but I'm hesitant. Which are better: CFLs or LEDs?


Both have downsides. Compact fluorescent light bulbs offer a staggering 75 percent energy reduction, but I've yet to find one that doesn't make me look like I've got food poisoning. LEDs can be flattering, but they're still pretty pricey.

Contrary to all the hoopla, though, the US government is not banning incandescent light bulbs; they'll just have to be 25 percent more efficient starting next year. My advice, then, for you: Start with CFLs in areas you don't need lovely lighting, like the garage; use the new incandescents sparingly in other areas; and don't forget about the most energy-efficient, flattering light of all -- the sun. Take advantage of natural daylight whenever possible, and if you have the chance to remodel, look into solar light tubes.

Should I wash dishes by hand or use my dishwasher?


In this case, being a Luddite doesn't make you greener: Unless you use the filled sink method and only scrub once a day, washing dishes by hand wastes a whopping 35 percent more water. So use your dishwasher -- just scrape, don't rinse before loading, and only run it with a full load. (Bonus: Save more energy by using the air-dry setting.)

Recycling Head-Scratchers

Can I recycle paper towel?


Not if it's damp or soiled (though if I had a nickel for every time someone tossed one in our bin...). It can, however, be composted. I say, avoid this dilemma altogether: Use microfiber cloth in the kitchen instead.

What about nail polish?


It may be packaged in glass, but because of the toxic nasties it contains, conventional nail polish should never go in the recycling bin -- or the trash, for that matter: Drop it off at a hazardous waste facility. Makes you think twice about putting it on your nails, doesn't it?

Um, breast milk storage bags?


Believe it or not, yes -- but check with your local recycling facility as to the types of plastics it accepts (the Lansinoh brand of bag, for instance, is a #4 plastic). Don't, however, reuse the bags before you recycle them; that's not hygienic and could make your baby ill.

And a Fun One

If you know about beer, can you recommend a good organic one?


Luckily, Miss Eco Etiquette is more a Cascade hops than a white wine spritzer kind of gal. But when it comes to green beer (not the St. Patty's Day variety), I like to focus on local before organic, since much of a cold one's carbon footprint comes from shipping it in those heavy glass bottles.

Many local microbreweries, too, may not be certified organic, but still focus on sustainability; one of my favorites here in California, Anderson Valley, uses solar energy; Brooklyn Brewery is 100 percent wind-powered. Find what's near you by clicking here.

And cheers to all your fabulous questions!