How-to: Start off a sustainable semester
By CG Lifestyles & People Editor Neal Patten
With classes underway, students are beginning to adjust from their summer routine back into school life. Part of this process is making your new dorm, house or apartment into home for the next eight months. This involves everything from choosing the layout of furniture, decorating, and buying new appliances to discovering a comfortable balance between schoolwork and fun. Before you get too cozy in your new rhythm – or before rushing out to splurge on a few additional temptations for your abode – consider these tips for helping your living space be at one with the earth.
My freshman year I was randomly assigned to a triple occupancy room in Washington Hall. I did not meet my roommates for the first time until move-in weekend. Therefore I can understand unease over this suggestion, but you should share as much as possible with those you are now living with. The easiest solution to any potential rooming issues is to draw the dividing lines – one another’s space and possessions are sacred. However, by splitting the coffee in the morning from the same pot, or by trading off the hair dryer before going out to a party – you are keeping extra appliances from being plugged in (drawing more power on or off) as well as lowering demand for even more landfill-bound consumer products. Finally, whenever possible watch movies with your friends on a laptop – not with a DVD player or video game system – which use four to six times more power than a portable computer.
Today’s always-on world has given rise to a new energy menace: phantom power. Phantom power is energy zapped by a device when it is in standby mode or when a device’s battery charger is plugged in but not the device itself. It is estimated that forty percent of all energy usage is sucked up by appliances ‘turned off.’ If your laptop is charged, unplug it at the outlet and use it until the battery runs low or if you are leaving for class, yank your cell phone cord out of the wall. Buying a power strip will make this easier – plug as many appliances as you can into a power strip that is easily accessible so all you have to do is switch it on and off to cut energy to multiple offenders at once. Also, resist the urge to cool off with an air conditioner. An AC unit uses 35-kilowatt hours per every 10 hours while a floor fan uses just .5 kWh. That’s a 70 percent difference! Oh, and make sure to switch all lights from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent ones!
The biggest drag on your wallet and the environment is buying toss-away dish and silverware. Using a new plastic spoon for every pudding cup or getting your preferred roast at Donkey Coffee with a paper cup adds to our rapidly expanding waste stream. Instead, drop a few dollars on a sturdy knife and fork set, a stainless steel water bottle and a glass mug. These essentials, if treated right, will see you through all four or five years in college. Take fountain water to class instead of bottled, stop buying one-use plastic utensils and don’t be ashamed to haul a mug in your backpack to your favorite coffeehouse. Most importantly, kick bottled water to the curb – forget all the advertising that bottled water is more pure; it is often no more than glorified tap water. Buy your own filtration device from a company such as Brita or Pur. These save you extra trips to the store as well as to the recycling bin with all those discarded bottles.
Big Lots, Wal-Mart, Family Dollar, CVS – they are all stocked up on bookshelves, light fixtures, box fans, and everything you need for this school year. But so are Goodwill (East State Street), New-to-You & ReUse (Columbus Road) and the Thrift Store for Animal Friends (Fern Street). Any four of those second-hand shops can provide you with all the furnishings to make your pad perfect. The best part is: everything comes already assembled, no tools required! Used appliances and furniture work just the same as new. You will probably even discover a nostalgic knick-knack or vintage decoration that will make your room uniquely you.
Switch to buying organic linens. Many regular brands of sheets are treated with all kinds of substances from harsh fabric softeners to industrial flame-retardants. Purchasing non-allergenic, organic linens ensures you are sleeping on cloud nine, not chemicals. Always wash everything in cold. Yes, science teaches us that we should wash our hands in hot water to eliminate germs so the same logic should apply to laundry, right? Not true. There is not a significant difference in the cleanliness of clothes washed in hot water over cold, but there are significant environmental differences. If everyone in the world switched to cold cycles, they would collectively save $3 billion in energy costs and reduce yearly carbon emissions by one percent.
These are just five easy ways to start off your year on a green foot. Consider where everything you purchase comes from and how it was made. Research the sustainability of the brands you love. Make a few easy lifestyle adjustments. A better world is just a bedroom away!