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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Brian Chapp, a senior at Lehigh University and the student coordinator for the school's green-themed student house, says to pay close attention when recycling and not to leave food waste in the container. For example, "wash out those yogurt containers really well," he says. "Food waste can minimize the amount of material that can be recycled." And if your school has a composting program, request a bin to compost any food scraps, says Heather Ellis, the sustainability coordinator at St. Michael's College near Burlington, Vt.

The EPA Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery also provides a wealth of information on source reduction, recycling, and disposal by state. 

5. Get involved. Talking with others about being sustainable and launching a special project to spread the word on campus could be effective ways to spark change on a larger scale. "Some colleges have appointed eco-reps for each dorm whose job it is to put on educational programs for students on how to use less energy," says Keith Whitworth, professor of sociology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.St. Michael's University's Ellis recommends creating a sustainability commitment statement and having your floor or entire hall pledge to adhere to sustainable living practices.

More and more schools are also sponsoring challenges between dorms to see which can use the least amount of energy. Worcester Polytechnic Institute held one such competition in November and had two freshman residence halls participate in a 10-day event to conserve energy. Director of Residential Services Naomi Carton says the best thing about it was when the engineering students pondered whether it was possible to adjust the timers on the vending machines that controlled the fans to cool the soda. "That's a testament to our students," she says. "For them to say, 'It could be the Coke machine that's going to make us not win.' "

At Bentley University, the entire month of February is "Blackout Challenge," and the student-run Green Society will host a campuswide competition to challenge dorms to reduce their electricity output. Various events will also be held throughout the month, such as screenings of Wall-E and Planet Earth, as well as a board-game night and other activities that can be done with minimal electricity.

Some college-goers say it's important for those forms of programming to put the onus on the student. "The university can make changes and try to foster a greener attitude, but it all comes down to the students," says Emily Williams, a senior at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. Matt Shaw at the College of the Atlantic says that if you want to start a group or activity, you should get your research done and have clear objectives before bringing the proposal before an administrative body at the university. "Be adamant, and don't give up on the issue," he says.

And still a lot of students view their efforts as a starting point for green living in the future. Says Rocco Calandruccio at the University of the South, "The greatest work we can do today is to become accountable for our impact on the environment and translate our behavior to the communities we inhabit after college."