Much has been written about LEED certification for buildings, renovating with earth friendly products in a manner that respects our earth. Great ideas for planners, architects, designers and building managers abound. But how can our activities at home in the residence halls and apartments affect the environment?
Our students may have been educated about green issues since they were in grade school. How can we support them in establishing good habits and awareness now that they are away from home and in a new community?
Recycle and reuse
• Plastic is a significant part of our waste problem in the US. By law most plastic is labeled with a number code in the familiar 3 arrow triangle. The number inside indicates the type of plastic it is. Nearly all plastic is recyclable, but in some communities it is too expensive to recycle plastic of types 3 through 7. Check with local facilities to find out what kind of plastics can be recycled in your area and educate students about how to separate plastics for disposal.
• Some regions have legislated that newspaper can no longer be put the in garbage but must be recycled. Provide recycle stations and containers for students to use in the residence halls.
• Organize donations of clothing, household goods, and consumer electronics to local charities. This is particularly effective when students clean out the closet for the trip home in the spring. Have trade boxes in the hall where students can put items in that they can trade with other folks.
• Dispose of waste, particularly hazardous waste wisely. Batteries, car oil, solvents, oil based paints are all hazardous chemicals. Give students the resources to dispose of these items responsibly. Do not throw florescent tubes in the general garbage even if they are low mercury lamps. All types of bulbs other than incandescent should be separated from general waste.
• The glass screens of CRTs can contain as much as 27% lead. Computer components may contain lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and other hazardous materials. Educate students about how to dispose of TV sets and old CRT screens that contain lead. These items should not be disposed of in landfills.
• Contact your city or county government to find out how to dispose of these items and educate students on options before check out. Student Government may have a recycling center that can help with questions about responsible disposal.
Care for what we have
• Residential staff in the buildings has a profound impact on the way students treat the walls, furniture and equipment in the buildings. When students take care of things, they last longer and the cycle of use can be extended.
• Encourage the reupholstery or renewal of existing furnishings and, when new things are purchased make choices for durable and attractive items.
Use resources wisely
• Educate students about water use, taking short showers, living with flow restricting showerheads, and turning off the water when washing the car or brushing teeth.
• Purchase items that contain recycled content.
• Avoid materials that cannot be recycled or are toxic when burned.
• Institute a recycling program for students in the hall to reduce waste disposal cost and transport to landfills. Provide recycle containers as well as garbage containers in the rooms.
• Use programs, visual aids, and contests to communicate with students. Rather than a sign that admonishes folks to recycle paper or refrain from excessive printing find out how many trees, how much water, clean air, fossil fuel and electricity was saved by the recycling of paper at your university, and publicize this information.
• Food is a valuable resource that uses water, nutrients, and fossil fuels to get it to the dining hall. Encourage cooking in smaller batches to reduce amount of energy use and amount of food wasted in the dining halls. Educate students about the amount of food that is thrown away in the dining hall. What food resources, transportation costs, and preparation costs can be saved by reducing the amount of food that is thrown away? Talk to the food service staff about having a day to measure the amount of food that is thrown away in each dining location and share the information with students to raise awareness.
• Use web resources rather than paper communications. Instead of making a poster that will be thrown away or reading newsprint copy of a paper encourage students to use on-line newsletters and websites to communicate.
• Educate students about energy use. The best conservation measure is one that encourages folks to turn off items that are not in use. Turn off the TV, computer, and other appliances before leaving the room. The most energy efficient fixture is one that is turned off!
• Be responsible – wear your socks! Put on a sweater rather than turning up the heat.
• Bike, walk, bus or carpool to events or around campus. Invest in pedometers and see how far folks walk each day.
When we each do our part, the world becomes a better place for us all to live together.
Submitted by Leslie Strong, Assistant Director Facilities Interiors, Western Washington University