How to Green Your College Experience

Submitted by bporter on

By: Ayate Temsamani, Better Paper Project Fellow

It can be exciting to start the new academic year in college with brand new supplies! Unfortunately, those notebooks, binders, and papers can generate a significant amount of energy and water waste. Paper products are a classic staple (pun intended) of the most important “Back to School” supplies. But new paper production generates more waste and contributes to devastating climate consequences. Making virgin fiber paper is a resource-intensive process: it is estimated that 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees are cut down globally each year to produce paper, not to mention all the energy needed for bleaching, printing and transporting the paper.

 Like any product, paper produces environmental impacts throughout its life cycle (raw material extraction, processing, manufacturing, distribution, use and treatment of waste). Over 40% of the world’s industrial logging goes into making paper, and this is expected to reach 50% in the near future. Forests contain more than 80 percent of the terrestrial biodiversity and represent one of the last refuges for a large number of animal and plant species. This is why deforestation is a disaster for both humans and other species, since it is estimated that 27,000 animal and plant species disappear every year because of it. This loss of biodiversity, which can be irreversible, will eventually deprive us of invaluable services and resources. School supplies can easily turn into a mountain of paper and plastic, hurting your wallet and the planet at the same time.

Here’s the good news…

We’ve put together some tips you can use to green your back to school experience and start implementing some green living habits in college. Here are some simple habits to adopt, which can be both ecological and economical:

1) Give your school supplies a new life!

While many school supplies such as pens are reusable for several years in a row, the EPA estimated that 1.6 billion disposable pens are thrown away every year. If they are not lost or broken during the year: binders, pencils, pens, calculators can all be reused.

2) Buy second-hand

Buying second hand allows us to use resources already produced, while enjoying much lower prices. There are plenty of online used book stores such as Thriftbooks, Powells, AbeBooks.  

3) Compost in your dorm room

A list of things that are found in college students’ dorm rooms can be composted including: Fruit and vegetable scraps, moldy bread, crackers and cereal, tea and teabags, Cotton balls and swabs made from 100 percent cotton, Natural corks from wine bottles, used paper towels, napkins and tissues among other items. There’s likely a garden or Agricultural Sciences Center on campus that will appreciate the donation!

4) Recycle and encourage your friends to do so

Make sure to recycle school supplies including old class handouts, papers, unusable textbooks… Check if your dorm has a recycling program and let your friends and neighbors know about it. You can always help start one in case your dorm doesn’t have a recycling program already in place. Finally, don’t forget to donate your supplies when you leave for the summer, you can use sites like Craigslist and Freecycle, or take them to your local Goodwill or thrift store.

5) Buy non-toxic supplies!

There are lots of non-toxic school supplies that are socially and environmentally responsible. Such supplies can be found at Naturally Playful*, Far East Handicrafts*, Life Without Plastic*, Favor the Earth.* Other products such as corn plastic pens, recycled plastic mugs, recycled paper notepads among others are available at Write Choice Promotions.

6) Make a list before buying

In case there are some items that can’t be recovered from last year, make a list and stick to it while shopping for Back to School supplies. This is a great way to avoid overbuying and it also protects your wallet! You could also look up around how much you will likely spend on supplies, and then take enough cash to cover those items to make absolute certain you won’t overbuy.

7) Look for recycled paper products

If you need to buy new notebooks or notepads, make sure to buy ones that are made of recycled paper: Acorn Designs*, Earth Presents*, Greenline Paper Company*, New Leaf Paper.* For any virgin content, only use fiber from certified Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forests.

8)  Use your laptop to take notes

You can start taking notes on your laptop or other digital devices that don’t require any paper. Moving from a paper version to a digital version can be more eco-friendly and requires less energy especially if the laptop is charged with solar power. Moving toward paperless products allow people to reduce their paper waste. In addition to reducing paper waste, taking notes digitally saves space and don’t get lost in your dorm room. It is also a great way to take better notes as more students type faster than they write!

9) Save energy in your dorm room

There are many ways you can save energy in the dorms:

  • Rather than running extension cords everywhere to power your electronic devices, put them all on power strips. Make sure to turn the power strips off when not in use!
  • Use natural plants or place a dryer sheet on the vent to keep your room smelling good at all times instead of plug-in air-fresheners.
  • Share a fridge with your neighbor and consume less energy.
  • Change your light bulbs to light emitting diode bulbs, also known as LED, which use far less electricity and last for a longer time.

10) Take action to save One Million Trees!

     We are calling on universities to make the Better Paper Commitment. By making this commitment, universities would be required
     to better their paper practices, starting by switching to recycled paper for its alumni magazines.

     As a matter of fact, if all colleges used 100% recycled paper for their alumni publications, we would save the wood equivalent of 1,000,000 trees, conserve enough water to fill over 700 Olympic-sized swimming pools and cut down 90,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions every single year.

     At the start of the coming school year, we are asking students to help us raise awareness about the One Million Trees campaign on campus and help us achieve our goals. See if we are reaching out to your school here – take action urging your campus to move to recycled paper for alumni magazines!

     Overall, these are simple and effective steps to green your Back to School experience! Adopt as many tips as you can and contribute to saving our planet.

 *All the starred businesses in this blog post are certified by Green America for their social and environmental impacts. Search all our green businesses on

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