Ask Betty: Local guru answers your green living questions


Got paperbacks to unload? McIntire Recycling Center's book swap is one option. File photo. Got paperbacks to unload? McIntire Recycling Center’s book swap is one option. File photo.

Teri Kent runs Charlottesville’s Better World Betty, a non-profit organization and online resource for locals looking to shrink their impact on the environment. Betty—Kent’s ’50s-housewife-meets-earth-goddess alter ego—will answer the most burning eco-questions from our readers every month. Send your own queries about energy use, water, waste and recycling, transportation, and green buying to

Question: I know it would be good to add more insulation in my attic, but I store a lot of boxes up there. How can I keep my storage space while increasing my energy efficiency?

Betty: The Department of Energy recommends that attics be improved by air sealing around bath fans, ducts, etc. on the attic floor and then adding a total of 14″ of insulation, for a preferable R-value (a standard insulation measure) of 50.

I talked to Laura Fiori and the folks at the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP). She recommends a plywood storage platform be built above the attic floor with 14″ of clearance underneath. This allows you to get the full insulation depth in all areas and still have your storage. It is important not to put anything on top of insulation or it will compress and become less effective, she warns.

Q: I have a pile of cookbooks to get rid of. Are there any local organizations that take them or book swaps to recommend?

B: There is a book bin at the McIntire Road Recycling Center, and I know that the SPCA Rummage Store on Preston Avenue likes books, too.

There are also some cool book exchange websites out there, including and (though I admit, I haven’t tried them myself).

Of course, you could also have your friends over for a media swap—books, CDs, DVDs. Only risk there: You could be left with a bunch of old romance novels nobody claimed!

Q: I’ve heard CFL bulbs have a trace amount of mercury in them. What am I supposed to do with them when they burn out?

B: That’s correct. They contain trace amounts —about 4 milligrams—of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury.

Let’s not forget that coal-fired plants in the U.S. account for about half of all mercury emissions from man-made sources. CFLs reduce the demand for power, which in turn reduces the amount of coal burned by power plants and the amount of mercury emitted when coal is burned.

When it comes to getting rid of spent bulbs, you have three options. Lowe’s on 29 North will collect them from you free of charge (no fluorescent tubes, however). You can also take them to van der Linde Recycling in Zion Crossroads. Or you can wait for the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority’s next household hazardous waste disposal day, which is Friday, March 22 from 2-6pm and Saturday, March 23, from 9am-2pm.—Teri Kent

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