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Eco Etiquette: Roommate Recycling Woes; Guests vs. Mosquitoes

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Dear Eco Etiquette:

I have a roommate who insists on buying bottled water. I've sent her various statistics and pictures about how harmful the production and improper disposal of plastic water bottles is on the environment, but they don't seem to matter to her. I work for a national environmental nonprofit and we live in the Bay Area in California, a place where the tap water is great and she has no reason to be buying bottled water. To make things worse, she throws the plastic water bottles in the regular garbage (which I then have to retrieve and put in recycling)! How can I convince her that buying less to no bottled water is the right move?

-Suzanne

Bad, bad roommate! This is an eco dilemma I encounter every day, thanks in part to the public perception that bottled water is the safer and healthier choice--despite studies showing that in many cases, what you gulp from the bottle is nothing more than tap water with a pretty label, and may even be more polluted, since it's not subject to the same regulation as municipal water supplies. But you already know this; the question is, how do you convince your roommate?

You may not like this answer, but unfortunately, there's nothing you can do at present to convince her to stop guzzling that Evian. You've tried the scare tactics, and they haven't worked. That's because in my experience, people don't respond well to lecturing; 10 bucks says your roommate hits the delete button on those "Plastic bottles destroying our wildlife!" emails the second they pop up in her inbox--at this point probably out of sheer resentment.

There is something you can do, however, about the fact that she is not recycling those bottles, since by tossing them in the trash, she may now actually be breaking the law and subjecting you to fines, to boot. Last month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed new recycling rules: Garbage collectors who notice those plastic bottles in your trash bin will let you off the hook the first time with a warning; after that, it's up to a $100 penalty for single-family homes and up to $1,000 for multiunit buildings.

Sit down with your roommate and calmly explain that while you'll no longer be on her case to get off the bottle, she's now legally obligated to learn the difference between the black bin and the blue one--and that any fines incurred as a result of her recycling habits (or lack thereof) will be her responsibility. The pollution pictures you sent may have failed to motivate her, but the prospect of a thinner wallet will.

Dear Eco Etiquette:

I love to entertain outdoors, but sunset does bring on the mosquitoes. Fogging the area or burning mosquito coils are easy but toxic options. On the other hand, not everyone likes to spray up--even with a non-DEET repellent. That also feels like I'm imposing my views at the discomfort of my family and friends. What suggestions do you have for when my eco-sensitive desires clash with my good-hostess duties?

-Marcia

It's great to hear that you're so considerate of your guests' health and well-being; I'd certainly rather walk into a gathering where someone handed me a bottle of all-natural bug spray then a recently fogged backyard where I had no choice but to grin and inhale a cocktail of noxious chemicals. That being said, I think it's possible to make your outdoor area party-friendly and naturally mosquito-free without burdening your guests. Scatter citronella candles around the area, don't bring dessert out until the very last minute (those pests love sweets), and try placing a fan near the table (mosquitoes are evidently dissuaded by a breeze). A graceful green hostess should never have to mention how she made the soiree so fabulous. (Although if your guests inquire as to how you bid those bugs begone, feel free to divulge all your eco secrets.)

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

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