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In an article about going green in college dorm living, there are three textbooks of the colors green, red, and beige.
Illustration by Nasim Ellahi, Columbia College Chicago

Sustainability doesn’t get much easier than this.

Climate change is one of the leading problems facing the world today. Therefore, it’s important to take action to lessen its impact. This may not be at the forefront of most college students’ minds, given the other things they’re juggling. They need to balance schoolwork, jobs and extracurriculars, leaving little time to focus on environmental issues. Some students may recognize the problem, but do not know what they can do about it. Living in a college dorm can cause more uncertainty, since students are in a small space and may be unsure of the resources their schools provide to go green.

Every college dorm is different, but some already have environmentally friendly practices in place. If so, the first step is taking advantage of these. This is one of the easiest ways to help the environment. Spreading the word about what individual colleges offer helps others to take advantage of these practices, too. Regardless of the policies of individual schools, here are nine additional steps to take to go green while living in a college dorm.

  1. Choose decorations wisely.

When shopping for dorm room decorations, make sure they’re environmentally friendly. One easy way to do this is by purchasing used decorations. You can ask around or head to a local thrift store. Buying used decorations has many environmental benefits, such as using less natural resources and energy. When buying new decorations, make sure they’re made from recycled materials. You can also make your own decorations out of materials like paper or cardboard. It’s especially practical to make sure that the decorations can be used in a future living situation after graduation. If they can’t be used again, look into giving them to a friend or selling them.

  1. Keep the college supply list in mind.

Some colleges don’t allow certain appliances, such as microwaves, in the dorms. Before the year starts, look at the recommended supplies/packing list from your college. This can usually be found online, though some may be mailed. Do not purchase anything that is not allowed or that is already provided. This will not only help prevent waste, but it will save money, too. Contact the college housing department if you’re unsure about whether something is acceptable or necessary.

  1. Coordinate supplies with roommates.

When it comes to shared appliances, you usually only need one per living space. Try communicating with roommates before the year begins to see if there are items everyone would be willing to share. If so, try to coordinate who is buying what. To make it easier, create a list and split the supplies up evenly. This way, not only will you save energy, but you’ll also save money.

  1. Coordinate cleaning chores.

Usually, it’s easy to tell if a room is clean just by looking at it. However, before starting to clean the room, ask your roommates whether the room has already been tidied. Taking a few seconds to ask can help prevent the unnecessary waste of energy or supplies.

  1. Recycle properly.

Most college dorms have recycling bins, often on every floor. It’s important to keep in mind that each college is different in regard to what they accept for recycling. Take the time to familiarize yourself with this information. It can either be found online, or in many instances, posted near the recycling bin. After learning the rules for your college dorm, make an effort to follow them. Make sure that recyclables are clean, dry and empty. Failure to be thorough may result in the entire bag of recyclables being contaminated if anything leaks. This means that nothing in the bag can be recycled, and it will end up in a landfill.

  1. Unplug and turn off everything when leaving the room.

From laptops to cellphones to TVs, we tend to consume a lot of electrical energy during our daily activities. One way to help lessen this impact is by turning off and unplugging all electronics when leaving the dorm room. This includes turning off the lights. Doing this might seem like a hassle, but a surge protector or power strip can help make this process easier. With just the flip of a switch, electronics will stop drawing power.

  1. Opt for reusable cutlery and dishes.

Disposable cutlery and dishes need to be thrown away after each use, which creates extra waste. Instead, opt for reusable, or even biodegradable, cutlery and dishes. Do some research before the beginning of the semester to find out which options work best. Then, after each use, simply give them a quick wash, and they should be good to use again. Not only is this good for the environment, but it can help save money.

  1. Be mindful of the laundry.

Laundry can use a lot of water, especially when doing multiple loads. Therefore, whenever possible, do only full loads of laundry. This way, water isn’t being wasted for just a few pairs of socks. Also, use cold water whenever possible. It’s also a good idea to air-dry clothes versus putting them in the dryer.

  1. Involve the entire floor or even dorm.

Large group efforts can make an even greater impact than the small things you do by yourself. Talk with your RA or dorm leader, and see if you can involve the entire floor or dorm in greener living practices. For example, you could hold a challenge in the month of April to see who can correctly recycle the most often. Another idea is a challenge to see which floor can use the least energy. The possibilities are endless, and involving others can be a chance to inform the campus community about how to go green.

Going green in a college dorm is possible when we take the extra time to plan sustainable actions. Most of these steps make simple additions to a daily routine. By taking the time to do these things, you can lessen the impact you have on the environment. It may not be at the forefront of a busy college student’s mind, but fighting climate change is essential to protect the future. By going green, you’re taking part in stopping this crisis.

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