Umbra Fisk

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Advice for Living Green

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

Announcing Umbra’s latest contest

Dearest Beloved Readers, Another turn of the seasons (still four, at last count) has brought us together again on the eve of Earth Day, the moment in the sun for the environmental movement, the fifth anniversary of Grist, and the second anniversary of my ability to freely pontificate into your inbox. It’s been a nice, quiet year here in the stacks, though there was a phase upstairs of eating only grapefruit that took quite a toll. (I do so much heavy lifting of reference volumes — The Encyclopedia of Niggling Concerns; Paper Products: A Comprehensive Bibliography — that, alas, I …

Umbra on recycling CD jewel cases

Dear Umbra, I’ve been Googling all over to find a place where I can recycle old CD cases, to no avail. I’m moving soon and would really like to find an environmentally safe way to dispose of these things. Do you know of any place they can be dropped off, or any other alternatives? MelissaEdgewater, N.J. Dearest Melissa, Here’s an answer not just for you, but for all those readers who write in with insanely specific recycling problems: If you’ve called your municipal recycling experts and Googled all over the place, consider that you’ve done your best and call it …

Umbra on post-consumer content

Dear Umbra, So I was sitting there at lunch, eating my crackers, when I spied a recycling symbol and was confused. What is “pre-consumer” content? I mean, if the label is true (“carton made from 100 percent recycled paperboard — minimum 35 percent post-consumer content”), what is the other 65 percent? And what is paperboard? KevinLaurel, Md. Dearest Kevin, Pre-consumer content is the stuff picked up from the cutting-room floor and recycled into new paper products. Paper that was wrinkled, or the odds and ends of a sheet after the pattern was cut out for the cereal box, or the …

Umbra on the market for recycled material

Dear Umbra, In reference to your polystyrene response: The polystyrene I have seen recently appears with a No. 6 recycling triangle on the bottom. But I’ve heard there is no market for this stuff, even though our local recycling company claims to want us to collect all Nos. 1 through 7. How can this be? GailSan Bruno, Calif. Dearest Gail, It’s a trick. Since recycling became the Next Big Thing in the 1980s, towns have been testing all sorts of rules, collection bins, and guidelines to see which work best. Some places commingle everything: Glass, plastic, and paper all get …

Umbra on exporting our recycling

Dear Umbra, While we were cleaning out a family member’s house, a neighbor stopped by to see what we were up to. I mentioned that we were tossing “real trash” into the large dumpster and compiling recyclable materials for a trip to the recycling center or metal scrap yard. We don’t know this person well, but without him knowing our political persuasion, he stated that recycling is just another segment of the “liberal lie” and that only 2 percent or less of recyclables collected by municipalities in the United States are processed and used here. He then claimed that the …

Umbra on the benefits of recycling

Dear Umbra, Some time ago, the public radio program This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass, was about recycling. Glass reported, “Experts agree that we have plenty of landfill space for the foreseeable future.” He proposed that recycling therefore did little more than make us feel good. The hapless person he interviewed came up with no better response to that than, “Well, what’s wrong with feeling good?” Glass pointed out that recycling paper costs less than using raw materials such as trees, but that was not true of other recyclables such as glass. Besides, he said, we are in no …

Umbra on recycling profitability

Dear Umbra, My friend has the notion that recycling programs lose money. Where does this come from? I can imagine situations where that could be the case, but in most cities there seems to be plenty of material being recycled to justify the collection infrastructure, etc. And surely there are markets for more recycled content than we currently produce. Why does the myth persist that recycling doesn’t make sense? And are there items that don’t pay for themselves? MikeLexington, Ky. Dearest Mike, Cities promote and support recycling programs for two reasons: public demand and financial good sense. (In special, hippie-filled …

Umbra on SUVs

Dear Umbra, Please help; my friend Kathryn Schulz, Grist’s managing editor, is sick of hearing about my guilt. I own an SUV. In my defense, I got it almost six years ago, when I was moving to the mountains and needed a big car with four-wheel drive to support my rugged, transient lifestyle, and it’s a littler model, not a Navigator. Life is funny, though, because now I live in New York, and the only thing I use my SUV for is commuting from my home in northern Manhattan to my job in Westchester. (My job, not just the commute, …

Advice on heating tiny urban dwellings

OK, Umbra, I live in a building in Brooklyn where, in typical Brooklyn style, we do not control our own heat. That is, there is no thermostat in our apartment. Thus, our only options for regulating the temperature in the winter are turning off the radiators or opening the windows. Obviously the latter is an absurd waste of energy; I don’t want my poor radiator trying to heat all of the outer boroughs of New York City. Trouble with the former option is that turning my radiator on and off causes it to leak, resulting in a steady wintertime river …