Condo Blues: 10 Ways for College Students to Go Green on the Cheap

Monday, August 3, 2009

10 Ways for College Students to Go Green on the Cheap

I learned a lot of my own green and thrifty ways during college, mostly due to thrift because I was responsible for paying my way through college. I quickly learned that by changing habits and reusing things I could save money in order to pay for the more expensive items in my budget: rent, books, tuition, and food, while still reducing waste.

That’s why I try to present options for green living and money saving tips. I’ve been doing the green and simple living thing long before it was fashionable and before many environmentally friendly items were available or affordable for the average working adult, let alone the average starving college student.

Here’s a list of 10 tips for college students who want to go green and save money doing it.

1. Buy and sell used books. I still take college classes from time to time for professional development. I always buy my books used. I have better luck getting them used if I buy them online. I do a search for my books as soon as I am registered for class, that way I can buy my book and have it shipped to me in time for class. My biggest piece of advice is to sell your books at the end of the quarter/semester either online or to the local bookstore. Really. Unless you are in law or med school, you won’t use those old text books, especially when you can look up current information on the Internet. The old marketing books I saved and thought I was going to use as reference quickly became outdated doorstops a short time after I took the class. I should have sold them back when I had the chance.

2. If you have an all you can eat cafeteria make sure you eat all you take. Chances are your school cafeteria isn’t going to compost that food you left on your plate. Eat it. Don’t throw food away. If your school cafeteria doesn’t compost food waste, consider working with them, your university’s landscaping office and start one! It’s a great idea for service project for an on campus group and can be a resume builder for you.

3. Unplug electronics when you’re finished with them and turn off the lights as you leave a room. These little things really do add up. I didn’t think this was a big deal either until I did the 20% Energy Reduction Challenge Project. Once I started keep track of my electric usage I quickly found that if I made it a habit like putting my TV on a power strip and turning it off after I was finished made a big difference in my electric use and lowered my bill.

4. Use a book bag/backpack for small purchases instead of using a disposable plastic bag. Consider carrying a reusable bag for bigger purchases in your backpack. It can be a nifty fold up bag like a Chico bag (I have one and I love it. You can learn more about it here) or just reuse a plastic grocery bag you already have.

5. Use last year’s/quarter’s/semester’s school supplies. Backpacks/book bags are pretty sturdy and can be used from one year to the next. If it’s ripped – see if someone can fix it for you if you can’t. I like to buy the big notebooks so I get two classes/quarters worth of notes from them. Yes, taking notes on a laptop would be even greener, but I don’t type that fast and the information seems to stick in my head better if I write it out long hand (your mileage may vary.) There are more environmentally friendly paper/pens/folders/notebooks, etc for sale now and if you can afford them, you may consider purchasing them. I can do that now when I take classes for professional development for my job or for fun (yes, I’m that crazy. I like to learn things for fun.) But in my starving student days, since it was all on my own dime, I leaned towards reusable but not as environmentally friendly as they could be school supplies – and I sometimes still do. (Hi Recession!)

6. Upgrade/repair electronics like computers, laptops, etc. first before buying new. Ask the store/service person if they can recycle the ewaste (spent video cards, laptop batteries, cell phones, etc) from the repair/upgrade for you. If they can’t, they may know someone who can.

7. Drink lower waste drinks. Try a glass of tap water, make a pitcher of drinks from powder/concentrate, or buy soda in 2 liter bottles instead of a six pack of cans or bottles. You can always put these items in a reusable water bottle so you have your favorite beverage in on the go low waste form while on campus. Many may say to ditch the soda altogether but let’s be realistic, some folks get their daily caffeine buzz from soda, not coffee or tea, especially during finals. If that’s the case, be a little more sensitive as to how many bottles/cans you are buying and recycle the empties, OK?

8. Recycle paper, glass, metal cans, plastic, ewaste, etc. through local programs. Don’t have a campus recycling program? Consider working with your college or university and starting one! It’s good for the environment, an excellent service project if you belong to a campus club or student organization, and an excellent resume builder.

9. Ditch the disposables. Try using rechargeable batteries, cleaning sponges/micro fiber cloths/rags instead of paper towels, bring your own travel mug to get coffee/tea at the campus coffee shop (some shops may even give you a discount!), etc.

10. Donate clothing, furniture, etc. when you move out of your dorm/house/apartment at the end of year instead of leaving it behind or tossing it in a dumpster. Some charities will pickup contributions if they are sizable. In that case, get together with friends and donate your items as a group. Your school may have a program that allows students to donate items before they move out, like Ohio State University. If you don’t have something like this at your school – start one! Again, it’s a wonderful idea for a service project and resume builder.

I admit some of these items involve spending some money such as buying a reusable coffee mug, rechargeable batteries, or water bottle. You might consider asking for these items as holiday or birthday gifts (that’s when and how I got my filtered water pitcher, which I still use long after college.) You may be able to get some of these items through campus freebies. I still have a stack of cleaning rags that were once upon a time free college t-shirts.

These are some of the ways I tried to green my college experience and save money during college. What are your tips?

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This is Condo Blues’ submission for the August Green Moms Carnival where our topic is Back to School/Green Schools. The Carnival will be held at OrganicMania. Please check it out after Monday, August 10th!