Every August, daring (and anxious-to-be-free) young men and women set out for college. For many, it’s the first time they’ll live away from home so naturally, furnishing their new digs is a big deal… and one that comes with a pretty hefty price. Every year, college students and their parents generate hundreds of tons of garbage! Luckily, getting your dorm to be eco-friendly has never been easier. All it takes is some creativity and effort.
- Think local. You may be tempted to stock up on dorm furnishings over the summer before heading off to school, but shipping stuff to school or renting a big truck to get it there uses tons of carbon (not to mention cash). If you’re a first year, try to buy your dorm décor when you get to school and if you’re a returning student, store it locally over the summer and pick it up when you go back!
- Ditch the AC unit. Ok we know all the student in the south are thinking “No Way!” but hear us out - you’re typically not in school for the hottest summer months, so you can survive a few weeks that are a little on the warm side! Isn’t our earth worth a few drops of your sweat? Open a window, use a fan, take a cold shower in the morning or before bed, or studying outside. Have to have an AC? (For allergies or some other reason), be sure to get an Energy-Star rated low-energy unit!
- Really need that mini-fridge? How about using the communal fridge in the common area? Don’t have one? Talk to your student government about that. If you really need that mini-fridge in your room, make sure it’s low-energy certified.
- Lighten up! Halogen lights are huge on college campuses – they’re super cheap and give off tons of light. But there’s a downside. Some use hundreds of watts of electricity and they can easily start fires. Your best bet is compact fluorescent light bulbs – they give off great light, use very little electricity and last for years.
- Go easy on the cords. Between you and your roommate you’re likely to have a lot of plug-in accessories. Instead of running extension cords all over your room (which is dangerous), put them all on power strips so you can keep them from sucking energy up when they’re not in use.
- Use used. Ok we know you can wait to hit IKEA or Target to get the coolest new stuff for your room, but think about the millions of other students buying new stuff every year… that’s a lot of wasted furniture. Why not check out local resale shops, eBay, Local, and Craigslist – you can get some funky vintage or gently used furniture, a step that will once again help you go green while saving you some green. Or sign up to your local Freecycle.org, a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns!
- Clean sheets. When looking for sheets, curtains, and towels, opt for organic cotton. They’re just as soft and snuggly without all those nasty pesticides found in regular cotton. Really want to up the ante? Look for fabrics that are also made with natural dyes and say chemical-free.
- Green water please. Instead of loading up on bottled water, pick up a BPA-free water bottle (Sigg, Kleen Kanteen, Bilt, Camelbak) and a water filtering pitcher (like Brita) to give you planet-friendly peace of mind and keep you hydrated during those study marathons.
- Common Scents. Dorm rooms can get stinky (all those weeks without Mom there to do your laundry really add up) so you may be tempted to stock up on plug-in air fresheners, but they use energy and release chemicals into the air. A better option would be to crack the window and let in some fresh air, or buy a plant to improve indoor air quality. (Even better, clean up the mess causing the stink!)
- Crafty cooking. To stay green, go for cooking options like microwave ovens, toaster ovens, crock pots, and rice cookers. These kinds of appliances concentrate the heat in the food. (Toaster ovens are a great alternative for cooking meat.)
- Planet-friendly toiletries. One of the last details of your dorm-room shopping is probably to stock up on shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc… all the things to keep you looking great around campus, but these products can be packed with chemicals too. So, look for items like Tom’s of Maine natural products, Seventh Generation and Avalon Organic Botanicals. They make great deodorant, soaps, and tons of personal care products that are you better for you and the earth.
San Francisco Chronicle