So you’re on your way to college – or maybe you’re already there. It may be your first year, it may be your eighth year, or perhaps you’re somewhere in between. Either way, the eco-friendly habits you keep over the summer living on your own are likely to be compromised by the dorm environment. Some things may be out of your control; for example, I only use fans at home, but my dorm building automatically turns on the air conditioning through the fall. But other aspects are in your control, and a few simple tips can help you keep supporting the planet until your spring exams are finished.

Here are 10 simple ways to make your dorm life greener, from back-to-school shopping to packing up at the end of the year.

1. Buy natural fiber, organic bed sheets. Also consider springing for all natural pillows, comforters, and mattress pads. Bamboo – a very sustainable resource – is also a great option when shopping for bedroom items for your dorm: not just linens, but bath mats and shower curtains, too. Not only will your bed be as comfy as it can be, but you’ll be making the most ethical sleeping choice possible. Check out Earthsake for all of your organic bedding.

2. Decorate secondhand. It’s easy to get caught up in Target wall decals and shiny new posters of your favorite bands, but refrain from impulsively buying new decorations. Shop instead on sites like eBay ClassifiedsCraigslist, and Etsy Vintage  to find unique, one-of-a-kind items to decorate your dorm room with. Also check out Freecycle or your local thrift shops for lamps and other basic room essentials secondhand. Used is great, but we all know used and free is even better! Not only do you avoid having the same Beatles poster as the rest of your hall, but your secondhand shopping makes a big environmental difference.

3. Replace incandescent bulbs with CFL ones. If you’re lucky, your school has already done this for you with your room’s overhead lights – but odds are that it hasn’t. So take initiative and bring a few light bulbs to school. But I get it – mood lighting is important. You need that string of Christmas lights across your door. Make sure you buy LED decorative lights, or purchase strings to which you add your own bulbs. If you have some extra light bulbs, consider giving them away to your roommate or a friend. It makes a huge difference in the long term. And don’t forget to turn off your lights when you leave the room. There
won’t be anyone there to appreciate them!

4. Buy natural candles and air fresheners. It’s college – your room just isn’t going to smell great every day. Even though almost all aerosols like Febreze are now CFC-free, according to the Washington Post, over the course of the year, an ordinary plug-in air freshener will use about 18.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity – equal to about a barrel of oil’s worth. As for spray fresheners, take a look at the ingredients offered on their labels and websites and ask yourself how many names you recognize. Try instead to make your own air freshener with essential oils. Or purchase soy candles, free of paraffin and synthetic fragrances, like these beautiful USA made ones from Maddison Ave. After all, stenches are sometimes out of your control, and it’s best to be prepared.

5. Make sure you only use eco-friendly laundry, bath and cleaning products. I think it’s safe to say that I’m Seventh Generation’s biggest fan. They’ve made environmentally friendly products available to everyone at reasonable prices. No matter where you’re shopping for dorm items, you’re likely to find Seventh Gen products there. Think about it this way: if you buy laundry and dish detergent, cleaners, scrubs, tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, bleach and trash bags that are all made responsibly, you’re alleviating a huge strain off of our precious resources that make those items. Hint: try to avoid fabric softeners. I know your mom probably uses them and that makes all the difference, but steering clear of them will save you money and save help make our environment a little bit cleaner. Think carefully about which products are essentials and which ones you’ll forget about after September ends.

6. Buy Fair Trade and organic snacks (and coffee!). I have a Keurig coffee machine at school and try to only buy Fair Trade cups (like these). If you’re making coffee in a French press or with a traditional machine, try to steer clear of big brands. Equal Exchange  is my go-to for delicious Fair Trade and organic coffees and foods. You’ll definitely want to pick up some bars of their chocolate and bags of nuts and berries. Don’t forget to bring your reusable traveler mug and water bottle to school! Having your own water filter or drinking tap water makes a big difference. If you’re sharing a kitchen, try to buy a water filter that fits on your sink to avoid the extra step.

7. Try to buy Energy Star appliances – and share them. Converse with your roommate(s) before you get to school to find out what appliances they’re planning on bringing. Split the cost of an EPA-approved Energy Star minifridge to save money and
electricity. Microwaves are also a greener alternative to cooking on a stove or in an oven (plus you can make all the Cup of Noodles you want) – just make sure you keep it unplugged when it’s not in use. The best option? Go without these kitchen appliances. But if you don’t think you can go without late night Ben and Jerry’s binges for a year, then make sure you bring a few extra spoons to share with your fridge-mates.

8. Use electronics wisely. If you’re only doing your hair on the weekends, why keep your blow dryer and straightener plugged in all week? Same goes for your laptop – if you head home for the weekend, don’t keep it plugged in while you’re gone. The simplest way to control your energy usage is to plug all of your electronics into a power strip that you turn off when you leave your room. Once you get into the habit of unplugging electronics, you won’t even think twice about doing it.

9. No more nasty red Solo cups! Nothing says “college drinking” like a red plastic cup. But these cups are wasted on a nightly basis in college environments, and they’re almost never disposed of properly. Since you don’t want to be that kid picking up after everyone reminding them to recycle, host BYOG (bring your own glass) parties or have reusable glasses to offer everyone. That way you have less cleanup and you help make Saturday nights on campus a little greener.

10. Store – don’t ship! And reuse packing supplies. The end of the school year seems to come out of nowhere, but don’t let yourself face packing unprepared. Try to get your hands on used boxes by asking local companies and businesses if they have any extra or visiting recycling centers yourself. Don’t buy packing tape with an unnecessary plastic handle, and share the tape with your friends so it doesn’t go to waste. The most important part? Don’t ship everything home! Do you really foresee yourself using your printer more than once over summer vacation? Store it with your school, along with your winter clothes (if applicable). You’ll save serious money with these tips, and time and frustration. Did I mention you’ll save money? Now the cash you made selling your textbooks can go to something useful, like a new bathing suit for summer. Now I’m getting a little ahead of
myself…

Have a great school year! Keep up the green work in college. Educate those around you who aren’t as aware of these environmentally friendly tips. Print out this list or your own list on recycled paper and post it in your common room. Spread the word that it’s not all that hard to stay eco-friendly in the crazy world that is college dorms.

– Jessica Nicholson

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