College students can live large, leave small footprints

High school graduation is behind you, and you are off to college soon. It’s the first time many of you will live on your own, and furnishing your new place is a big deal.

Here are some ideas to soften the blow to your wallet and the environment.

Research getting around by biking or walking. Think about those options before you choose your location and factor it into your ultimate decision. You will save money, meet people and be healthier.

Making your new abode eco-friendly has never been easier. Just apply some creative thinking.

Resist the urge to stockpile everything you can imagine you will need before you head off to campus. Shopping local is a great idea, but your locale has changed. It costs money to haul stuff, so save the cash and carbon. Consider this a chance to get to know your new turf. Research what local shops carry, what Freecycle has to offer and what the classifieds list. At the end of the term, store it locally until next fall.

Be selective about your electric electives.

Do you need an air conditioner? Yes, if you are going to a Florida college, it will be hot, but you aren’t going to be on campus in the summer. If you are at a northern Florida school, it will start to cool down at night. Days are spent in class, on campus or perhaps at a part-time job. You might make out fine with open windows and a fan to cool your place. If you do need to buy an air-conditioner, look for an Energy Star-rated appliance.

Do you need to have a mini-fridge if there is a communal fridge available?

Buy compact florescent lights for your room now, and you’ll be writing your commencement speech under the light of the same bulbs.

Put your electronics and chargers on power strips, so one click turns everything off when you leave for the day or weekend.

Small cookers such as microwave ovens, toaster ovens and slow cookers do a good job without heating up your space.

Buy used. Make a long list of all the cool stuff you will need to relocate. Now multiply that list by the millions of other students planning the same thing. That is a lot of new stuff. Think reuse instead of buying new and you have many choices: eBay, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Freecycle, consignment shops, thrift shops and the classifieds. Funky, vintage or gently used furniture will make a statement of your values and your taste to all your soon-to-be friends.

Ban those plastic bottles. Choose a reusable BPA-free water bottle — Sigg, Kleen Kanteen, Bilt, Camelbak — as your constant companion. Make use of a filtering pitcher to supply you with Earth-friendly hydration.

Ditto to the plastic bags. Find a good backpack or tote and use it every day to haul your stuff and carry home purchases.

Use common scents. Look for nontoxic cleaners or make your own from products such as vinegar or baking soda. Consider going natural to avoid being in a small space with that lemony-fresh smell. Keep your place clean and dirty laundry to a minimum and you will find you don’t need the plug-in air fresheners, just a little fresh air from an open window. Mom would be so proud of you.

— Karen Beal is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four Rs — reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (compost). She can be reached at