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.

For even more green goodness, you can follow Umbra on Twitter (@AskUmbra) or become a fan on Facebook.

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

Umbra on utility carts

Dear Umbra, I live less than a half-mile from a supermarket, and prefer to do my errands by foot. Any thoughts on where I could buy a top-of-the-line utility cart? I’m willing to pay a premium for something lightweight, smooth-rolling, stable, foldable, and durable (or if not durable, then easy to recycle when it breaks!). Something stylish would be a bonus: it might just convince my neighbors to follow suit. LizAlexandria, Va. Dearest Liz, Generally I don’t like to shop for people, because it’s so easy to go wrong with brand or site favoritism, but this seems like a safe …

Umbra on car disposal

Dear Umbra, My wife and I are making plans to purchase our first hybrid vehicle and need to properly dispose of our current car — a 1989 Buick LeSabre. My question is, what is the best way to get rid of it? It is old and has a lot of miles on it. I suppose the dealer may take it off our hands for a very small trade-in amount — at which point, they will probably just send it to the scrap yard. What are the odds of it getting properly recycled at that point? Should I first see if …

Umbra on green weddings

Dear Umbra, We are having a wedding in Kauai in September and are expecting about 40 guests. I would like to make it as “carbon-neutral” as possible. We’ve already instituted some greening aspects — recycled invitations, recycling at the reception, etc. — but would like to take it a step further. Obviously, air travel is the most significant contributor. Are there any organizations offering carbon offsets for weddings? I researched Future Forests, but was wondering if there are others out there. SeanSan Diego, Calif. Dearest Sean, What a lovely, seasonally apropos question. Ye wedders and civil uniters force your guests …

Umbra on micro-wind

Dear Umbra, Are there any worthwhile resources or models that would enable me to generate my own electricity in a cost-effective way, using wind power? This is on a one-household basis. Matt PinesToronto, Canada Dearest Matt, In jargon-land, you are interested in micro-wind. Little did you know! Because you are a blessed Canadian, you have an excellent resource, the Canadian Wind Energy Association’s small-wind calculator. Just enter your postal code and average electric bill to see what a turbine might cost, what your payback time might be, and how glad you are to live in Canada. CWEA can also point …

Umbra on wind farms … again

Dear Umbra, In your response about opposition to wind farms, you neglected in your enthusiasm to say how much electricity from wind would actually be used and what effect, if any, the farms would have on our overall energy use. Can you cite an example of actual reduction of fossil- and nuclear-fuel use brought about by existing wind farms on a general grid? And if so, couldn’t conservation bring even more benefits, without “adding modestly” to the industrial depredations of yet more roads, power plants, transformers, and transmission lines? Eric RosenbloomKirby, Vt. Dearest Eric, Watch out, this answer is filled …

Umbra on lawn mowers

Dear Umbra, OK, I hate lawns. But for a number of reasons, I have to move into a town where lawns are the law, and mowing a necessity. Can you give me the scoop on the most eco-friendly lawnmower that will still cut decently? (No, I can’t have goats.) My old reel lawnmower never did a decent job, and I doubt I could talk the rest of the family into it. That leaves, as far as I know: electric (corded and cordless), solar, and (gasp) gas. My husband has ancient knowledge of electric mowers and what a terrible job they …

Umbra on washing machines

Dear Umbra, I have a top-loading washing machine that’s nine years old. I’ve heard that front-loading machines are a lot more efficient and use less detergent, so I’m thinking about taking the plunge, even though my old machine works fine. How much less water do the front-loading machines use, and why? And is it true that they use less detergent? (I just switched to an environmentally friendly detergent, but boy, is it expensive — so less would be good.) Do they hold as many clothes as a top-loader? And can you recommend a website or other source where I can …

Umbra on shaving, part two

Dear Umbra, I just read your response about men’s shaving, but what about women? I don’t see many women shaving with straight razors, plus we have the depilatory cream and waxing options too. What’s our best option, especially for those of us who just hate dealing with it, but must? CatherineAppleton, Wis. Dearest Catherine, Although I pledged to avoid the widget this year, I am failing — for the widget’s size belies its magnetic pull. As soon as I addressed that male shaving quandary, women — and men who shave outside the beard region, and men who love women who …

Umbra on eco-conscious fashion

Dear Umbra, I need some new clothes! But besides shopping consignment and used clothing shops and hunting through labels looking for “Made in USA” tags, are there online sources of organic- or sustainable-fabric clothes that are guaranteed sweatshop-free? I would not mind investing in some decent duds that look nice and last. Lorna VogtSalt Lake City, Utah Dearest Lorna, Yes! I’m going to mention a few, and I know dozens of my dear readers will write in to Gristmill chiding me for omitting others, so keep track there. Absolutely fabulous — and not a sweatshop in sight. Photo: Romp. But …

Welcome to the new Grist. Tell us what you think, or if it's your first time learn about us. Grist is celebrating 15 years. ×