Local guru answers your green living questions

File photo. File photo.

Teri Kent runs Charlottesville’s Better World Betty, a non-profit organization and online resource for locals looking to shrink their impact on the environment. Every month, Betty—Kent’s ’50s-housewife-meets-earth-goddess alter ego—answers the most burning eco-questions from our readers about energy use, water, waste and recycling, transportation, and green buying.

Q: What is the best way to dispose of paint cans that hold or held paint that is water soluble, not oil? 

A: If your paint container still has some paint (no more than a quarter of a can), then put some eco-friendly cat litter (not the strip-mined variety) or chopped-up newspaper in the can to soak it up, and let it dry completely. Then toss the paint-coated material and recycle the paint can just like you would any other steel can.

If it’s more than a quarter full, you have three options. You could wait until the next Household Hazardous Waste Day hosted by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, which will be this fall, or donate it to Discovery Museum or your other favorite kids’ places (schools, church nurseries, etc.), especially if it’s bright and beautiful. You can also take it to Van der Linde Recycling at Zion Crossroads, where it will be recycled for you for $1 per can. Van der Linde disposes of the paint using a DEQ-approved method that makes use of a granular material that absorbs and dries the liquid—much like the at-home kitty litter approach.

Q: I’m about to replace two smoke detectors in my house with new ones, but I don’t know how to responsibly get rid of the old ones. How should I dispose of them properly? 

A: It’s recommended that smoke detectors be replaced every 10 years or so, even those that are hardwired into a home’s electrical system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, both photoelectric and ionization smoke alarms contain plastic and electronic circuit boards, and alkaline or lithium batteries. The ionization alarms also include a chamber containing radioactive material incorporated into a gold matrix (who knew?).

Unfortunately, Virginia does not have a program for recycling smoke detectors, so I recommend that you first call the manufacturer to see if you can return it there. Your remaining alternative is to call your local fire department, which may be able to help you with disposal.

Q: Where can I get information on healthy/unhealthy sunscreen options? 

A: Excellent question with warmer temperatures coming soon. The best resource I’ve have found is the Environmental Working Group’s website: www.ewg.org. It has an extensive “Skin Deep” sunscreen guide at www.ewg.org/sunscreen, and a downloadable app, both of which list “best” sunscreens and lip balms and let you search by sunscreen brand or type.

It may surprise you to note that more than half of Coppertone sunscreens received “High Hazard Ratings” (the EWG looks at protection and various health concerns). Blue Lizard, Aveeno, and Kiss My Face make the top-rated safe list. There are plenty of safer, sustainable choices out there now that are healthier for ourselves, our kids, and the planet, too—some of the synthetic chemicals in sunscreens can be harmful to sensitive aquatic life, which is important to remember if you’re swimming in the great outdoors.—Teri Kent

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