For many students, college is a chance to be someone a little bit new. You can hit the library all the time even if you barely passed in high school. You can join a sorority and wear Lacoste and pearls every day even if you were goth from K-12. If you're thinking of going just a little bit greener in college, now is as good a time as ever. Being green is not about doing everything differently or going days without showering or eating organic tofu for every meal. It's about doing the little things you can.
Do not buy your books
Resist handing your college bookstore hundreds, if not thousands, of your hard-earned dollars. Most college libraries have textbooks you can check out. Don't worry if they're older editions – many publishing companies just add small images or change text here and there every year. Your library might have an agreement with other schools' libraries as well, so you can get the books from another school even if your home institution doesn't have them. If you can't get books through the library, get them online through companies that let you rent the book for the semester rather than buy it. You'll get your book in the mail and send it back after four months for a fraction of buying it used.
Get right with search engines
Students do a lot of Googling in college for everything from research to finding the best cheap eats in town. Try a greener approach this year with www.blackle.com. It provides the same results as Google but uses less energy because of its dark template. Or bookmark www.greenbacksearch.com -- it searches via Yahoo but spends 50 percent of its revenue to offset carbon emissions.
Give up the plastic, people
We know, it's hard. At home, you had those handy bottled waters to grab on the go. And you got your iced coffee before school at Starbucks in those oh-so-trendy plastic cups with lids and green straws. No more. Pick up a BPA-free water bottle, such as a Klean Kanteen, and refill it. And buy a reusable coffee Thermos that you can use every day.
"E-waste" stands for electronic waste, and college students contribute to the problem every year. When you throw away an old printer, a computer or a cell phone, the toxic materials in it can't be legally processed in the United States. In the end, workers – some of them children – in developing countries process our discarded products that are full of lead, beryllium and other chemical-laden heebie-jeebies. Put an end to a disastrous situation by visiting earth911.com, where you can type in what you need to recycle and search for Atlanta recycling facilities. The Midtown Neighborhood Association also sponsors an e-waste collection every third Saturday of the month at Grady High School.
Step away from the Costco
Buy in bulk and save money. What's not to like, right? Well, being green is about buying food that you'll actually eat, and buying too much means more of it ends up in the trash. It's far better to go to your local farmers market for some of your weekly fare so you can be healthier and support your local economy.
Be a label junkie
Know what different food labels mean. For example, the "natural" label is minimally regulated, so it's fairly easy for a company to say its product is "all natural," despite what's actually in it. In contrast, the "Certified Naturally Grown" label – shown with an encircled farmhouse – is a nonprofit labeling system that lets small farmers get recognition for using U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic farming methods and selling locally, without making them pay high costs for real "USDA Organic" certification. For eggs, the best label to look for is "Animal Welfare Approved." Under this program, birds can't be forced to molt through starvation or have their beaks cut off. "Certified Organic" and "Certified Humane" are good choices as well – both allow beak-cutting but require birds to be uncaged. If you buy fish, look out for the "farm-raised" label. Some farm-raised seafood comes from nations that aren't too keen on regulating things like pesticide content or protection of local ecosystems. And if you buy milk, the labels "hormone-free," "rBST-free" and "rBGH-free" mean that cows are raised without the use of controversial hormones, which are suspected to be carcinogenic in humans.