Umbra Fisk

Ask Umbra®

Advice for Living Green

Yours is to wonder why, hers is to answer (or try). Send your green-living questions to Umbra.

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Umbra Fisk is Grist Research Associate II, Hardcover and Periodicals Unit, floors 2B-4B.


Umbra on PVC substitutes

Dear Umbra, I know to avoid PVC, but it’s difficult to know all the places it lurks. Is all vinyl PVC, or are there PVC-free vinyls? What options are there for waterproof but PVC-free materials (I have children who wet …


Umbra on battling cockroaches

Dear Umbra, Help! I’m having a mysterious cockroach problem. I found four in my apartment in two weeks, and not in the expected places: one in a stack of papers (I know, I should pay my bills faster), one near …


Umbra on dryer sheets

Dear Umbra, You mentioned toxic dryer sheets in your recent column on clothing, but without a reference to how they are toxic, etc. Lisa Milligan Fayetteville, Ark. Dearest Lisa, I appreciate the brevity and directness of your query. I’ll strive …


Umbra on chocolate

Dear Umbra, Although I buy most of my chocolate as fair trade or organic, I was wondering if you might enlighten me on the politics and economics of the chocolate (cocoa) industry. Where is most of it grown? What are …


Umbra on synthetic fabrics and kids

Dear Umbra, I have just recently learned about all these plastic-awareness issues and now wonder about polyester clothing, or any human-made fabric for that matter, on my children (three girls: 3, 5, and 7 years old). If plastics can leach …


Umbra on kayak materials

Dear Umbra, I’m planning on kayaking the Inside Passage next summer and am having a hard time deciding what kind of boat to get. Are there any environmental reasons to choose a kayak material? Mostly I’m torn between plastic, which …


Umbra on reducing consumption

Dear Umbra, If recycling requires energy to turn one’s discarded waste into usable products, and “climate solutions take precedence over garbage-production concerns,” as you wrote in June, why are we so focused on recycling and not on reducing our initial …


Umbra on owning multiple cars

Dear Umbra, Your recent column suggested that the questioners sell one of their two cars, but I can’t help wondering how much good that does for the environment, especially weighed against the annoyance cost of not having a second car …


Umbra on recycled toilet paper

Dear Umbra, The few brands of recycled-content toilet paper available are nasty. Why is it so difficult to manufacture TP that’s not from virgin trees but doesn’t feel like bark on one’s sensitive skin? What exactly is the technological barrier …