When living on a college campus, it can feel like you have no control over how environmentally friendly your way of life is. The hallway lights are on all night, you have little say in your food, there are paper towels EVERYWHERE. But there are things that can be done, from small gestures that add up over time, to potentially changing the way your school approaches sustainability! The following are just a few ideas to get you started. There are ways to waste less, save energy, taking things large scale, and much more. I’m sure you will find at least a few ideas you can implement.
Green Your Dorm – a guide to sustainable living on a college campus
- Recycle: This step can be the easiest, or rather difficult. If your school provides recycling bins in the rooms, USE THEM! If not, bring your own. Make sure you clarify what is recyclable at your school (remember: pizza boxes are not!)
- Shut off the lights/open the curtains: This may seem like a no-brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve walked into an empty bathroom with all the lights on (there is a sign right there asking you to turn them off!). Whenever you are the last to leave a room, turn the light off. And don’t turn the light on if there is adequate daylight for you to see. Open those curtains and let the natural light in!
Use a power strip: An easy way to save electricity, power strips allow you to shut off power to your electronics without having to go around and unplug all of them. This eliminates “phantom energy,” energy that gets used even when electronics are shut off. This is particularly a big concern with TVs and computers. I make sure to turn my power strip off when I leave for class and when I go to bed. When it is in use, try to have as few items plugged in as possible.
- Ditch the dryer: I have bad luck with dryers. They never work well and after 45 minutes I end up having to either do a second cycle or letting things hang dry. Eventually, I stopped bothering. If you have dryer problems, or if you have to pay to do laundry, why not invest in a clothes rack and just hang dry all your clothes? By hanging shirts, well spaced, in a closet, pants on the backs of chairs of bed posts, and everything else on the rack, you can save a lot of energy and money.
- Shorten your shower: The amount of water used per minute showering can vary among showers, and dorm showers are not going to be the most efficient. No matter what the number is, though, a shorter shower will always mean water saved. You can also save water by turning it off when shaving or brushing your teeth.
- Reduce your trash: Using hand towels, handkerchiefs, and reusable feminine hygiene supplies are very easy ways to reduce the trash you produce in the dorm. If you have a Swiffer, make or buy a reusable cover for it. Do your best to just reduce your consumption of waste products in general.
- Invest in a hand towel: This “reduce your trash” gets its own line. One of the biggest wastes I noticed in my dorm was the garbage can in the bathroom full of paper towels. At the time, I had a hand towel that I used to dry off after washing my face. Now, I also use it to dry dishes and, when I remember, I bring it with me to the bathroom. No more paper towels for this girl! (just remember to wash it frequently)
- Limit food waste: Watch what you eat in the food hall. No, not because you are worried about the freshman fifteen. When eating in a cafeteria, there is not the luxury of saving leftovers. Be mindful of what you take and make an effort to not take more than you can eat. If your school has a buffet system, this should be especially easy. Start with a small amount of food and go back as necessary.
- Transition to chemical-free: While some homemade cleaning and hygiene supplies may be difficult to make in a dorm room, most of these supplies are extremely economical and easy to maintain. For others, make up batches over breaks. My laundry detergent lasts all semester, and my deodorant lasts even longer. Check out books like DIY Non-Toxic Cleaning Recipes for more ideas. If you’re not up for a full transition, take it slow, start with the ones that you feel confident you can tackle and keep up. For the rest, slowly build up to them and try to buy more natural versions for now.
- Have plants: Keeping plants in your room will bring life to your space and make it feel more homey. By keeping herbs or medicinal plants, you can use them as sustainable, safe, and cheap products. Some plants are particularly good at removing toxins and purifying the air. I don’t know about your room, but I know mine could use that in the winter! So now I keep an aloe plant in my room (Here’s information about growing aloe and extracting the gel).
Join/start a sustainability club: If you school has one, join! If not, start one! Getting involved in some sort of environmentally conscious club will not only expand your own knowledge of how to live more sustainably on campus, but will also give you a larger reach to inspire fellow students to join the green life. It can also lead to the next step:
- Talk to your campus: My campus is very environmentally conscious (we have our own windmill, we compost in the cafeteria, and we buy local food whenever possible), but we always have room to improve. While our sustainability club focuses on educating students, they also converse with the college to help figure out how things can be better. Just last year, the sustainability club and the college worked together to begin implementing composting in the dorms. Big things can happen when you get involved!
Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? If you are a college student, what do you do on campus to lessen your impact?