5 Unique Ways to Go Green if You're Living in a Dorm

Besides turning the lights off, there are dorm competitions, smarter shopping, and even data tracking.

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2. Reduce paper waste. Everyone knows it's better to use hand towels and cloths instead of paper towels, but see if you can take it one step further. It might be more expensive, but consider buying a small set of dishes, bowls, and silverware instead of paper goods for in-room dining, says Amanda Navarroli, manager of sustainability at Bentley University. Recycled and reusable cutlery and plates can be purchased online at Preserve or at retail giants like Target or Walmart. Most grocery stores also sell recycled napkins and tissues. "But if you want to get fancy, try organic hand towels and bamboo cutlery," says Tara Holste, the recycling coordinator at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.

And use your printer wisely, too. Ask your professors if it's OK to submit papers and reports via E-mail, and set your computer to default to double-sided printing. If you don't have a double-sided printer, reuse paper that has been printed on one side for draft printing or scratch paper. Matt Shaw, a junior at Maine's College of the Atlantic who has worked with the campus committee for sustainability, says that students there have such a green mentality that when they need to print something, they'll grab some used paper out of the nearest recycling bin.

And try to condense your mail lists so only interested parties are included, says Straub of Susquehanna University. You can block unwanted catalogs and unwanted mail by going to www.cataloguechoice.org, and you can also get rid of junk mail by sending a letter to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735.

Straub also recommends making your own notepads out of recycled paper and using online banking, which is now offered by practically all of the major banking companies and credit unions, to reduce the number of paper bills you receive. 

3. Data awareness. Here's how you can score major points for creativity. If you really want to make an impact where it will matter the most, find out exactly how much water, electricity, and gas you are consuming in your dorm, says Rocco Calandruccio, a senior and the residential sustainability coordinator at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. The information is critical for accountability as well as tracking progress toward living greener, he says, and most colleges have it and will make it available to you if you ask. Officials at Sewanee, for instance, are currently working on a system that will make the data available to students in real time. 

Emily Wright of Colorado College's Office of Sustainability agrees that giving students the tools to audit and calculate the carbon footprint of their own spaces, whether it's a single dorm room or an entire building, is important. An on-campus deli at the Colorado Springs liberal arts college even has a new educational program to track food miles associated with products so that students can make informed decisions about what they consume. This interactive website created by the sustainability office at the University of New Hampshire shows you how to reduce energy consumption for various items you probably already have in your room. Regardless of the information that you get from your school, always challenge yourself to take shorter showers, use cold water to do your laundry, and try hanging your clothes on a clothes rack to dry instead of tossing them in the dryer. 

4. Recycle. This might not sound like anything new, but it applies to both recycling the things that you use and purchasing items made from recycled material: When you shop, look for recycled items that were made using post-consumer waste. Most retail chains now sell recycled umbrellas, vases, doormats, and even journals and stationery made from elephant dung. "The fact is that a lot more things can be recycled these days," says Susquehanna University's Straub. Start by learning what can be recycled on your campus, and then make sure there's a recycling bin next to your trash can. Liz Davis, a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, says she is able to recycle cereal and pasta boxes and the plastic wrapping around toilet paper in addition to the usual items like soup cans and bottles. "Anything that you do not recycle goes straight to the landfill," she says.