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Going Green On Campus

Green Dorm Room Ideas for Eco-Friendly Students

A sophomore at the University of Virginia shares her tips and tricks

When I moved away from home to attend college, I knew that I wanted to continue to live a more conscious, green lifestyle. At first the obstacles seemed overwhelming.  Like most students, my biggest challenges included living on a limited budget, sharing a tiny dorm room with no access to a kitchen, and eating on a meal plan; these made it a lot harder to control my food and my food waste, not to mention that dining hall food makes fast-food and ordering out extra appealing.

With some practice, I developed some strategies that have helped me reduce my waste and my carbon footprint.  It took about four to six months to get the routine down, but I went from not being sure how to get started in my new environment to establishing some easy, simple behaviors that help me live greener on campus. These eco-friendly lifestyle tips also help me save a lot of money…a big win for any college student.

Here’s how I did it.

DIY Decorating

I wanted my room to reflect my commitment to sustain a healthy and thriving planet. Instead of the usual go-to’s like plastic lights, accessories and furniture from big box stores that will end up in a landfills after just a year or two, I opted for a tapestry from a thrift store and made my own decorations for the walls made out of old papers and magazines. I didn’t decorate much as a conscious choice to avoid buying new things and to save money, but I didn’t have to sacrifice functionality or aesthetics.

DIY Decorating

Say Goodbye To Single-use Dishware

When I moved into my dorm room first year, I was overwhelmed to see trashcans overflowing with plastic cups, paper towels, plates, and other throw-away items. I wanted to try to avoid contributing to that waste as much as possible. I found it was just as easy to opt for reusables by keeping plates, cups, and silverware on hand (having a single spork worked for me!), and to bring a hand towel along to the restroom for drying hands and dishes.

My re-usable kitchen collection is clean, reliable, and more sturdy than flimsy plastic that ends up in landfills for thousands of years; it’s not a big deal to wash it in the bathroom sink. At first, I got a few looks in the bathroom when I came in to wash my bowl and spoon with a reusable towel, but I think I ended up inspiring more people to turn to reusables after explaining what I was doing and why.

Plus, by using fewer disposables, I did not have to take out the trash as often and I save money! That’s what I call a win-win!  

Say Goodbye To Single-use Dishware

Get Creative with Delicious Solutions for Dorm Room Cooking

Living in a dorm and eating on a meal plan doesn’t mean you can’t also prep healthy, on-the-go snacks or midnight meals for long nights studying. If your housing association allows it, store a small kitchen knife and mini cutting board in a drawer to cut up fruit and veggies that you take from the dining hall. Munch on them immediately (with nut butter) or put them into reusable containers and stow them in a mini fridge.

As far as cooking goes, we weren’t allowed to have any appliances that generate heat, so the most cooking I could do my first year was prepare tea with a hot water heater. If you want to make instant meals with hot water for when you are really in a pinch, think about the packaging. Conventional instant foods like ramen are often packed in plastic and styrofoam. Instead, opt for companies that use sustainable packaging – packaging that’s made using compostable or recycled materials, and that’s also recyclable after you’re done with it.  I recommend the soups and chilis from Patagonia Provisions. If you’re looking for mac and cheese, Annie’s Mac and Cheese Cups are a more sustainable option than other commercial brands..  

Make Old New Again

One of the greenest things you can do is to buy gently used items rather than new. We have great thrift stores in Falls Church and Charlottesville, VA, but you can never go wrong checking out Goodwill. Plus, you can bring gently used items to those stores (and some will pick them up from your house or apartment) and give them a new life with another owner. I love getting together with a group of friends to go thrifting. It is so fun to see what other people find and to try and snag the best items. From clothes, to my dorm room decorations, to my school backpack, I intentionally shop for used items first to avoid buying things new.

Compost on Campus

Yes You Can…Compost on Campus (and Recycle, too!)

Whenever preparing food in my apartment this year, I throw extra food scraps into a compost bag that I bring with me the next day or later in the week to one of the compost bins on campus since it is not collected through my residential area. We also have a bunch of recycling bins outside near the dumpster and smaller ones in each room, making it easy to recycle cans, bottles, plastic, paper, and cardboard boxes. UVA has a few different e-waste recycling locations on grounds, so check to see if your school does, too!

If you don’t have composting or recycling on campus, see if any of the campus environmental groups are interested in helping you get those programs going. You can also talk to departments that have educational programs that relate to farming, gardening, or plants about offering a composting program. By rallying enough student voices, perhaps you can change the way your school currently deals with waste and help them reduce their footprint. If you run out of options, just do your best to minimize your overall waste.

About the author:
Jamie Wertz is a sophomore at the University of Virginia (UVA)in Charlottesville, VA where she is pursuing a degree in Global Studies (Environments and Sustainability) and Public Policy. She works for the Office for Sustainability at UVA and with Turning Green, an environmental non-profit inspiring youth to live more sustainably. She loves rock climbing, teaching yoga, cooking, farmer’s markets, and exploring the outdoors.

If you’re interesting in learning more about going green on campus, she she encourages students to sign up for Turning Green’s Project Green Challenge, a 30-day eco initiative held every year in October, that informs students to transition from conventional to conscious living. Sign up for PGC 2017 here.

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