The Intern Files: How to Green Your Dorm

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Fresh dorm space? Green it up with recycling initiatives, space-saving options and energy-efficient lighting. Photo: Flickr/prayitno

August, for many, is the time for family vacations, barbecues and pool parties galore. For college students, it’s also the bright beginnings of a new school year.

While you prepare for move-in day, keep in mind that being green can still apply. It’s absolutely possible to create an easy, eco-friendly living environment for everyone involved, whether you have one, two or several roommates.

As an editorial intern for Earth911, I know from firsthand experience that greening your dorm is possible (and cheap!).  At my residence hall at Queens College, which is LEED-certified Silver, I’ve gained the reputation among my roommates as the green enforcement police. Hey, you can never be too satisfied.

In the spirit of turning over a green leaf (it isn’t quite autumn yet), here are a few eco-obstacles new and veteran college students alike might face, and how to fix them.

Problem #1: Your room is small and stuffy

First of all, tackle space efficiency by bringing along storage containers that can fit beneath your bed or desk. The containers, which are usually made with plastic #5, are sturdy and durable for years of use, after which they can be recycled.

Secondly, make the most of natural sunlight by opening your window blinds. This can also help regulate your internal clock and reduce the need for an alarm.

For your desk and floor lamps, use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use 75 percent less energy than conventional incandescents, are brighter and last 10 times as long. Make sure to turn them off when not in use.

Problem #2: Your roommate doesn’t obey the laws of recycling

First, find out what can be recycled at your school. Then, set up clearly marked bins in a visible spot, like next to the refrigerator, for recyclables like plastic water bottles, aluminum cans, glass and paper (but use it as scrap first!). Agree on a schedule to take out the bins when they get full.

Problem #3: It’s hot, and there’s no air conditioning

Fans will keep a small space cool, while operating with a fraction of the energy costs of AC. In fact, a 42-inch ceiling fan on high uses only 2 percent of the energy as does a central air system, and about 8 percent of the energy as does a medium-sized AC window unit. Though you’re not paying the utilities bill, it’s interesting to note that fans cost less than a penny per hour to run.

Also remember that using CFLs will keep your room cooler because they don’t heat up as quickly as incandescent bulbs.

Problem #4: There aren’t enough outlets for all your technical gadgets

Come ready with power strips. These little guys are energy-efficient because they can easily be shut off while your printer, phone and laptop charger aren’t in use. Be sure to unplug individual appliances or even the power strip to reduce phantom energy usage.

Problem #5: You need some more green tips!

Let’s throw in a few extra for good measure.

Reuse your old notebooks, or buy ones that are made with recycled paper. Buy toilet paper and paper towels with recycled content in them, and use green cleaning supplies, like the ones offered by Seventh Generation. Instead of throwing out plastic bags, use them to line your trash cans. Lastly, explore your energy-efficient laptop options using the Energy Star website.

Good luck! And while you’re at it, take a look at some eco-friendly dorms at the University of South Carolina, University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon and Tulane University.

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  1. Hey Chloe,

    Great article! Throughout the school year, I often have problems wrestling with going green as well – oftentimes, its plain hard to find a sustainable (har har) balance with time and effort. Its all too easy to prioritize studying for that looming exam over tweaking your room around a bit..

    One thing that I’ve really been meaning to look into and hope to implement this upcoming year is composting. Do you happen to have any experience w/ doing it in the apartments? Any advice would be helpful – I’ll have a nice balcony to keep the smell (and my roommates’ complaints) out the window. Here’s one site I found:


  2. Author

    Hey Seigi! Glad you enjoyed the article.

    Unfortunately we don’t compost at my school but this year I’m actually looking into creating a program. It pierces my heart every time I throw a banana peel or an orange rind in the garbage. I also drink a lot, a lot of coffee. Here’s one suggestion I have for keeping in-room composting simple…

    That site also has windowsill tomato and strawberry gardens that are very cheap. I’m planning on buying those this year…maybe I can put my coffee grounds to good use. =)

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