Umbra Fisk

Ask Umbra®

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 Halloween

Dear Umbra, What do you recommend handing out to the trick-or-treaters this Halloween? I would like to avoid the wasteful packaging and additives found in store-bought goodies. I’d bake my own treats, but I doubt parents would let their kids …


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 …