Dear Ms. Household Environmentalist: Last year, you wrote a column suggesting parents use wet cotton wash cloths instead of commercial wipes on their babies' bottoms. More recently, you pointed out that several wipes manufacturers are making refill packages, and you suggested that wipe users buy them. Aren't you contradicting yourself? Why are you suggesting people use baby wipes?
Dear Reader: As I see it, my job is to point out alternatives that are more environmentally sound than mainstream practices. I could say use no disposable products, never drive and grow all your own food. That wouldn't be terribly helpful. What seems more helpful is to offer a hierarchy of choices, ranging from the most trouble, or biggest change in habits, to the least trouble, or smallest change in habits.
So I recommend that people buy a stack of cheap cotton wash cloths and use them to wipe baby's bottom. The wash cloths can go in with the regular wash and can be reused perhaps a hundred times. Not willing to do that? OK. How about buying refill packages so that you won't have to throw away as many of those bulky plastic tubs? Every little bit helps.
Dear Ms. H.E.: Do you know of any uses for old pantyhose? I have a garbage bag full and I feel guilty throwing them away.
Dear Reader: My esteemed colleague Heloise, in her book "Hints for a Healthy Planet," lists -- are you ready? -- 16 tips for reusing old panty hose. Buy her book, or check it out at the library. Beware tip number 15, though. It suggests tying your stacks of newspapers for recycling in old pantyhose. This breaks the Golden Rule of Recycling: Never Improvise. Call your recycler and ask if pantyhose string is OK. My own suggestion for pantyhose waste reduction is: Wear tights. They last longer.
Dear Ms. H.E.: I am very much concerned with the quality of air in our house because my husband, age 76, has emphysema. My mother, age 104, has breathing difficulty. I, age 68, have a chronic sinus condition and allergy to dust.
Recently, I purchased an "Alpine Air Product," a portable air purifier that is advertised as having the essential ozone electronic purification system, which neutralizes smog, gas and accompanying gases, destroys cooking odors, reduces pollen and dust, eliminates chemical fumes and revitalizes indoor air quality. It is made by Alpine Air Products Inc. and cost $400. Can you let me know about ozone's effects on purification of the air in our home?
Dear Reader: Unplug the machine. Ozone, an air pollutant in the lower atmosphere, can kill microorganisms and oxidize some smelly compounds. However, levels of ozone that can do that to your air can be toxic to humans. If your family has respiratory problems, ozone is the last thing you need.
The District Court of Minnesota recently found that Alpine Air Products Inc. engaged in "deceptive trade practices, false advertising and consumer fraud." The court ruled that the company "shall make full restitution to each purchaser [in Minnesota] of the purifiers within 15 days of the purchaser's request."
Call your distributor and ask for your $400 back! If you have any problems, contact the Office of the Attorney General, in St. Paul, Minn. And if you are still interested in getting an air cleaner, call your local branch of the American Lung Association for advice.
Dear Ms. H.E.: What is it that covers the cork on better bottles of wine? Isn't it still lead, in most cases? Isn't there some alternative?
Dear Reader: The foil that covers the cork on most wine bottles is lead. However, as long as you buy domestically bottled wine, you are going to be seeing less and less of it. California wineries switched to aluminum, tin or plastic foil as of Jan. 1, 1992. As part of efforts to keep heavy metals out of landfills and incinerators, at least 10 other states are beginning to regulate lead in packaging -- including wine packaging -- and soon no U.S. bottlers will be using lead foil.
Thousands of wine bottles still carry lead foil, and bottlers in other countries are not subject to our regulations on this. When you open a bottle of wine that you suspect has been wrapped in lead foil, wipe the lip of the bottle inside and out with a damp cloth before pouring.
Now, as to disposal of the foil, I'm afraid you will just have to dump it in your trash.