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Yes, You Can Have Fun AND Live Sustainably In College 

College is all about embracing possibility: You’re making new friends; dressing up for wild, themed parties; taking exploratory courses; and, of course, discovering who you are (or, at least, trying to). And for that reason, it’s also a great time to push yourself to start creating positive, lifelong habits — how will you spend your time? Your money? Your energy? How will you prioritize giving back to your community, and the planet?  
According to the environmental and global-development nonprofit Planet Aid, the average college student produces a whopping 640 pounds of trash each year. And with the threat of climate change looming larger than ever, now is the time to start implementing sustainable everyday practices that go well beyond your average on-campus recycling program (especially given the fact that the average recycling rate on campus is a staggeringly low 24%, according to an independent study by the sustainability consulting firm Resource Recycling Systems).
Of course, we’re the first to admit that few college students have the bandwidth (or the the funds) to drop everything and go zero-waste — and dorms and dining halls aren’t always conducive to *going green.* That said, there are still a ton of small yet effective steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint at school this fall without sacrificing your grades, your wallet, or that burgeoning (thriving) social life of yours. That’s right, you can have fun in college without sacrificing sustainability. Here are nine ways you can make this semester your greenest yet.

1. Rethink your hydration habits

Whether you’re a freshman setting foot on campus for the first time or a super senior, chances are, you already have a back-to-college shopping list saved in your Notes app. Take this as a sign to add Brita’s six-cup water pitcher and Elite filter to your must-buys. With a six-cup reservoir, it’ll help you stay hydrated as you cram for tests (or, after long nights out) — and your water will taste better than ever. The real win, however, is that you’ll be reducing waste and saving money, since one Brita Elite filter can replace up to 900 single-use plastic 16.9 fl. oz. water bottles. 

2. Skip the fast fashion

We get it: Fast fashion is budget-friendly. But unfortunately, it’s the opposite of environmentally friendly — and that means it’s time to cut those quick-turn retail ties for good. Instead of adding cheaply made pieces to your cart this fall, take stock of the outfits that you already have in your wardrobe. Start with an end-of-summer closet clean-out: Organize the items you love and donate the ones that are no longer serving you (or serving looks). When you get to campus, host a clothing swap in your dorm for themed parties or events, rather than investing in a new wardrobe (your wallet will also thank you). Because, how many one-shoulder tops does a girl really need?

3. Upcycle your old clothing

Do you have a denim jacket sitting, unworn, in your closet for years? This is the perfect time to take that baby off its hanger and put it to work. If you’re not drawn to it in its current form, why not turn it into something useful, like a tote bag (there are some great YouTube tutorials for this, no sewing machine required) or a cool set of textbook covers? If you want to get really creative, gather up your old concert tees or soccer uniforms and turn them into a cozy quilt for your dorm room. And while you’re at it, turn old sweaters into colorful rugs, jeans into raw-hemmed shorts, tees into tanks, and fabric cuttings into hair bows or headbands. 

4. Commute with intention

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, transportation is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector of the economy (it accounted for 33% of nationwide emissions in 2019, alone). Walking or biking to class is a great — and free! — way to reduce your own carbon emissions, not to mention, you’ll get to reap the rewards of exercise-induced endorphins. If you do need to have a car at school, consider joining (or hosting) a rideshare, so you can share carpool on and off campus with other students.

5. Embrace reusable utensils and refillable coffee mugs 

You know the old adage: reduce, reuse, recycle. Plan ahead for the “reuse” part by adding reusable utensils and containers to your back-to-college shopping list. According to the Massachusetts-based program Recycling Works, the average college student generates almost 142 pounds of food waste alone every year — and providing your own coffee cups, water bottles, and utensils will help you do your part to reduce that number. 

6. Carry! A! Tote!

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, containers and packaging make up for over 28% of all waste in the U.S. And while some states, like New York, have banned the use of plastic bags and switched over to paper, why not choose the most eco-friendly carryall option of them all? Skip the grocery store bags altogether by keeping a tote bag (or a backpack, if that’s more your style) with you at all times. It’s a surefire way to avoid contributing excess trash to the landfills that are already overflowing with pollutant-emitting plastic. 

7. Turn off electronics when they’re not in use 

Did you know that your devices are still wasting precious energy, even when they’re idle? A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 23% of power consumption in the average household is due to “idle load electricity,” which means that if you have a habit of keeping your laptop in sleep mode all night, now’s the time to break it. By fully powering down any small appliances in your dorm room, you’ll conserve energy instead of wasting it. Plus, you’ll ultimately help lower greenhouse gas emissions, overall. 

8. Plan out laundry days to avoid using excess water

The smaller the load of laundry, the more water (and energy) you waste. The solution here is obvious: Do larger washes, less frequently. Plan out your laundry days with intention so as to make the most of your schedule and our natural resources, or double up your load with your roommate. Be sure to run cold-only cycles, too — water heating accounts for 90% of the energy required to operate a standard washing machine, per the government-backed Energy Star program.

9. Turn off the lights in your dorm room whenever you leave 

When you’re not the one paying the electric bill, it’s easy to forget to turn off the lights each time you leave a room. But you shouldn’t only be mindful of your energy output in financial terms, and college is a great time to start being conscious of it. By switching off the lights (and any other appliances, like TVs) as you head out of your dorm for the day or night, you’ll waste less energy. If you want to go the extra mile, opt for LED light bulbs, which are 85% more efficient — and last longer — than traditional incandescent bulbs.

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