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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Looking back, I realize that my childhood school lunches were a sad affair- not only because my brown bag lunches usually consisted of a flattened sandwich that was a little more than lukewarm come lunchtime, but also because these home packed lunches were horrible for the environment. Between the individually wrapped fruit roll ups, the disposable brown bag and the one use sandwich baggie my lunches were essentially a giant middle finger to Mother Nature. It wasn’t intentional or malicious, but still if I had access to a time machine I may go back and inform my parents of the advantages of living an eco-friendly lifestyle–just after I travel back in time stop good ol’ Abe Lincoln from being assassinated  and right before I go forward in time to steal next week’s winning lottery numbers…space time continuum be damned!

In 2010 parents are not able to hide behind an ignorance of the negative effects a wasteful lifestyle has on the environment, we all are aware of global warming, even those naïve enough to not believe in it. Now that I have sufficiently guilted you, I can offer some very simple steps that you busy parents can take to ensure that your child’s lunch is delicious to both their and Mother’s Natures sensitive palates.

Reusable Snack Bag By Waste Free Lunch

1.) Black List Your Brown Paper Bag:

Brown paper lunch bags not only allow your child’s Sammie to get flattened under the weight of errant text books by lunch time, but they also are terrible for the environment. As with most items, something that is single use is not eco-friendly. Switching to a reusable bag or lunch box is your eco-friendly alternative. There are plenty of adorable options out there that will keep your child’s beautifully constructed sandwich in tact while keeping those brown bags out of  garbage cans and land fills.

If you are feeling extra ambitious, you can even make your own reusable sandwich wrap, perhaps a fun project that you are your offspring can tackle together!

2.) Go Organic, Vegan or Vegetarian:

Regardless of your stance on eco-friendly lunches –hopefully since you are reading it your stance is, “Yay! I love feeding my kid in the most ecological way possible!”– you definitely want to feed your child food that is not only nutritious but delicious as well. The good news is that being an eco-friendly lunch packer does not mean you have to sacrifice taste.

Whenever possible, purchase organic and local ingredients. The closer the food is made to your home, the lower its carbon footprint! Even if you are a carnivore through and through, you may want to switch it up every so often by serving your child a vegan or vegetarian lunch! Meat comes with a huge carbon foot print- we are talking Big Foot proportions- between the fuel it takes to grow the grain to feed farm animals and the amount of methane cows  releases into the atmosphere via their gas, skipping on the meat and dairy will make your packed lunch an eco-friendly power house!

Your kids will not be missing out on flavor, there are many awesome vegan recipes online including delicious ones that can be found right here on the Autonomie Project Blog, such as this one for homemade fruit leather, a recipe that does not call for three layers of wasteful packaging.

3.) Just Say “No” To Juice Boxes:

We can all agree, while adorable in their pint-sized stature, juice boxes make for a ton of excess packaging. From the individually plastic wrapped straws to the box that houses a dozen smaller boxes, these wasteful extras put a strain on the environment.
By purchasing a thermos, your child can still indulge in all the delicious juice needed to quench their lunch time thirst. By purchasing a larger bottle, or making your own juice and filling this reusable thermos  you cut down on oodles of waste.

4.) Strut Out The Reusable Cutlery:

Sometimes what’s easiest- in this case tossing in a disposable fork or spoon in your child’s lunch- is not the right thing to do. Purchase reusable cutlery that will fit into your child’s adorable reusable lunch box. Notice a theme here? Good, you get a gold star! Reusable goods are the corner-stone to green lunch!

5.) Refuse To Purchase Individual Servings:

When faced with purchasing the already separated into individual serving sized snack and the larger, bulkier, not ready to grab and toss into your child’s lunch box snack you should always aim for the latter.

When purchasing snackables for your beloved little scholars, always seek out the path with the least amount of packaging. Fruit is delectable to taste buds and often comes wrapped in its own natural casing…bananas, I am looking at you pal, way to be a handy-dandy snack! Even when indulging your offspring with the occasional store-bought cookie, purchase the larger package and allot the appropriate serving in one of your child’s reusable lunch accessories!

If these five steps are a little too verbose, here is a cheat sheet to packing an eco-friendly school lunch: avoid excessive packaging, reuse whatever materials you can and be aware of where your ingredients come from. Got it? Good, there will be a pop quiz at a later date and time…and no, I can not tell you when, that is the point of the “pop” in the pop quiz.

Packing a school lunch with a mind for the environment takes minimal effort and shows that you not only care about your child’s present but also their future.

-Meghan Hurley

Harvard Dorm Room Photo By jonssonAh, September, a bitter sweet time wherein we bid farewell to summer and slowly begin to accept the impending crispness of Autumn air. For school bound boys and girls of all ages, it marks the age old tradition of back to school time. To many college bound folk, this means a move into a dormitory, a rite of passage that involves finding new and inventive ways to block out your new roommate’s snoring, wearing flip flops to shower and finding sheets that fit your freakishly long, dorm-style mattress. While we can’t stop your roommate from raiding your mini-fridge in the middle of the night, we can offer you fine people some tips on making your transition into dorm life a little more ethical and a lot more green… and no, we don’t mean the type of green growing on your roommate’s stack of one month old unwashed dishes.

Deluxe Mini Fridge/Warmer Photo By majortk

Mini Fridge: One of the most classic among dorm room accessories/ necessities is the mini fridge. While some dorm rooms may already come equipped with these miniature appliances, many students are left to obtain their own. A savvy, green-minded student may forgo this tiny fridge all together, choosing instead to house their edibles in the normal sized refrigerator in the common Kitchen area of their dorm. If the idea of leaving last night’s pizza exposed to a floor full of hungry students currently working on their freshmen fifteen puts you into a mild panic, fret not. One can simply choose a fridge that is both teeny and energy efficient. Looking for an Energy Star rating is an easy way to decipher what is the best purchase.

Paper Plates + Plastic Forks= An Unhappy Planet: An easy way of cutting down on waste is to forgo the simplicity of disposable dinnerware. Purchase reusable plates, utensils and cups. Don’t let the additional chore of washing these dishes get you down, just remind yourself, when you are elbow deep in dish soap, that you are doing the world a favor. Plus, using a little elbow grease builds character.

Steel Water Bottle Photo By Robert Couse-Baker

Just Say “No” to Bottled Water: Your mom’s membership to the Super Saver’s Club Warehouse may make it tempting to load up on hundreds of bottles of water for your new school year home. Heck, you probably will need to hydrate after a long night of party hopping, hydration is a key part of dodging a gnarly hangover, but a glass of tap water will do the same thirst-quenching job. Fill up a jug or table top filtration system in your dorm’s kitchen area, as needed, to keep in your room. The environment and your mom’s wallet will thank you in the long run.

Your Power Strip can Make the Dean’s List: College life in the modern age is marked by a tangle of wires and electronics. One of your first dorm room purchases very well may be a power strip. When selecting one of these plug multipliers, look for a smart version. That’s right, just like you, your power strip can be smart and ecologically minded. While still protecting your electronics from harmful power surges, these smart versions also sense when these items are shut down and cuts off the energy fully, preventing phantom energy drains. Me thinks these smart power strips must have graduated Power Strip University (PSU) with honors.

Energy Saving Lightbulb Photo By MuffetLight Bulbs: Replace your overhead and desk lamp’s light bulbs with energy-saving bulbs. Before replacing, hold the light bulb over your head and declare that you just had a great idea before performing this green-ifying task to the delight/ disgust of your new roommate. Be careful, if they are not a fan of corny jokes they may kick the foot ladder out from underneath you…on second thought, skip the joke and get right to the light changing task at hand. Safety First!

Toys. Lots of toys. Photo By Brent and MariLynnDecorations: You are probably going to want your dorm to be a reflection of your superb sense of style. No worries, you can be a master of interior design while being conscious of the environment! Try finding products that are made of recycled goods, organic materials or better yet, buy second hand. There are plenty of lightly used furnishings, decorations and even clothing available at your local Goodwill-type store and of course, the internet has an abundance of used goods for sale. Don’t be afraid of thrift shopping, even if your item belonged to a deceased person, your dorm could use a little haunting for future late night Ouji board sessions.

Fashion: College is a time for exploring new things. Belief systems, musical tastes and fashion all go through an evolution as students pass through the four to ten years they will spend at their university. Your ever-changing wardrobe will however need some staples, regardless of whether you choose to ultimately choose to embrace hippie, rastah, or khaki influenced duds. A pair of timeless sneakers and a few adorable t-shirts are a must for any wardrobe. These items can be easily obtained if you mosey on over to Autonomieproject.com for your dorm life fashion needs. Both ethical and stylish, these threads will win you compliments and possible new pals at freshmen orientation!

With a Greener mind and ethical outlook to dorm room life, you won’t be able to help but feel like one smart cookie. You may even become so euphoric that you will become magically able to block out the chainsaw-like sounds that are emitting from your slumbering roommate…at least for the night.

September has arrived, the year begins to wane and the “s” word (school) is on everyone’s lips.  With the new school year come meals to plan and supplies to buy, and it might seem a challenge to make those choices both vegan and environmentally responsible.  But fret not!  Below can be found five interesting and ethical alternatives to the same old options haunting your yearly school routine:

1) Easy Lunches: Perhaps the most practical place to start would be with fuel for the brain, and Jennifer McCann is certainly the one to go to.  Author of the awesome Vegan Lunch Box blog, she has just released her second book, titled Vegan Lunch Box: 130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-ups Will Love!  A cursory glance at the eats inside is cause for a taste bud riot.  She covers all the bases, from grilled pepperoni sandwiches to quinoa amaranth timbales.  She even discusses issues on being young and eating Vegan and offers pertinent suggestions, such as how to create healthy “look-alike” meals that won’t call too much attention to a more self-conscious child.  Who of any age could say no?

2) Mmmm, Granola Bars: Ok, so the granola bar might be considered a lunch sub-category, but not really; granola bars are special.  They make a fun and tasty addition to any lunch and can also serve as hearty, nutritious snacks throughout the day.  The Swiss Army Knife of the food toolkit.  Enter the Kitchen Sink Granola Bar, found on Kathy Patalsky’s Lunch Box Bunch site.  Her vegan recipe is sensible and well-rounded but leaves room for personal improvisation.  Most importantly, the bars are chock-full of fiber and protein, including steel cut oats, flax seed meal and various nuts and seeds.  It’s also a baking-pan recipe, which means plenty of bars to go around.  Try to make them last more than a day!

3) Hemp Backpacks: If in the market for a new, durable, vegan,  and environmentally responsible book bag, look no further than the Large Hemp Backpack from Pangea’s Vegan Store.  Perhaps the most widely-usable fibrous plant, hemp is easily sustainable and rugged, and Pangea guarantees these packs (and all the products they sell) to be both cruelty-free and produced by workers protected under unions or just labor laws.  The bags have a simple, utilitarian style, come in three colors and are the perfect size for notebooks at 12″x14″.  And at $54.95, they are comparable in price to the larger backpack manufacturers.  What is there to dislike about them?

4) Reusable Lunch Bags: There are quite a few options out there for non-disposable lunch bags out there and you don’t have to sacrifice style. For instance the Bazura Bag, made out of recycled juice boxes in a woman’s co-op in the Philippines.   Or check out the Mimi the Sardine Modern Cloth Bags with fun patterns such as flowers and cars but also made from organic cotton in the USA. Now that you have the bag, don’t forget to purchase re-usable sanwich and snack bags. There are many brands and cute styles to choose from including some made of recycled materials and oragnic cotton.  Best of all, they eliminate the need to purchase daily-disposable plastic or paper lunch bags and are affordable in the event they are lost.

5) Recycled Cardboard Binders: Everything about Greenline Paper Company’s corrugated cardboard binders is just plain cool.  Their simple, raw look and useful design speaks to studiousness and they are claimed to be more resistant to wear and tear than a traditional, toxic vinyl binder.  Should the cardboard be damaged, the metal rings are easily removed and the cover can be recycled and replaced with a new one for less than the price of having to replace a vinyl equivalent.  According to their site, Greenline prides itself on creating paper products that are recycled, tree-free, biodegradable, non-toxic, sustainable, or reusable; the binders are at least 35% post-consumer recycled.  They are also socially responsible, as they are assembled at Northwest Center in Seattle, which provides vocational services to the disabled and disadvantaged through education, training and job opportunities.  Come to school with the feeling of making a positive difference while introducing some funky style!

 

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