Watch your waste: Can students saving energy save the word?

By Danielle Kahn

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Every morning Kassaundra Pereira, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, wakes up to an alarm on her phone. After she gets out of bed, she flicks on her light. She then makes her way to the bathroom where she showers and blow-dries her hair. Sometimes she even puts the TV in her room on for background noise.

Pereira’s daily routine is very similar to the hundreds of other students who live on campus. Living in Wheeler Residential Hall, she never really considered what her daily routine might do to the Earth’s atmosphere.

“I don’t really think that much about wasting energy,” Pereira said. “I do think about recycling. But with energy, I think I don’t really think about it, because in the dorms I’m not paying for it.”

Rebecca Yessenow, a junior at UMass, also lives in Wheeler. Energy efficiency is not always on the top of her list, either.

“I always notice if someone has the water running,” Yessenow said. “I’ll usually turn it off if it’s someone I know. But I don’t typically think about it. Not usually in daily thought.”

Pereira and Yessenow represent a dilemma on college campuses when it comes to energy conservation. Because there is no direct cost to students, there is no incentive for them to reduce their carbon footprint.

“Dorms are metered by themselves and it’s easy to use as much electricity as you want because you never really pay,” said Josh Stoffel, the UMass sustainability coordinator.

Students at UMass, like Yessenow and Pereira, don’t always think about their carbon footprint, but there are a lot of little things they can do to limit them. The appliances they use, the lights and computers that are left on all day and the long showers they take, can all be changed for a quick fix.

According to a Frontline interview with George Monbiot, journalist and author of the book, “Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning,” power stations that generate electricity are the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions, a major component in greenhouse gases that cause climate change. The energy it takes to power light bulbs, appliances and electronics use up all three of the biggest CO2 generators: coal, natural gas and oil. All of these things account for one-third of carbon dioxide production in industrialized nations. The leading sources of emission after that are transportation, home heating and agriculture.

Many students are also unaware of what is called “vampire,” or phantom, appliances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these are electronics, adapters and appliances with remote controls, which actually remain always on, and continue to suck in energy even when they are switched off. A TV is notorious for wasting energy when it’s off, as well as DVD players, VCRs and game consoles. A simple solution to this is plugging all appliances into a power strip and turning it off whenever none of them are in use.

Stoffel also suggests unplugging appliances that you’re not using. Things like cell phone chargers, TVs, microwaves and computers waste a lot of energy.

“They’re all drawing energy, but it’s not being utilized so it’s just dissipated as heat,” he said. “One of the biggest things a student can do is not leave things on. Shutting down and shutting off is really important. Even hibernate brings energy intake down to approximately three percent of what it would be if it was on.”

Changing a light bulb to a more energy efficient one, like a compact florescent light bulb, can help reduce CO2 emissions. According to BP, for every half hour a light bulb is on, it produces a party balloon-sized quantity of CO2. The tips from TakePart recommend switching to a compact fluorescent light bulb because it can reduce this CO2 output by 150 pounds a year. Other tips include driving less, recycling more, washing clothes in warm or cold water and using the short cycle on all appliances. Making only these alterations in everyday life can save up to 3,050 pounds of CO2 a year.

At UMass, the showers use two and a half gallons of water per minute even with low flow shower heads, so shortening daily activities like a shower can help a lot, said Stoffel.

“When you shower, you’re using drinkable water,” he said. “That’s in the toilet and sink too. It’s a precious commodity.”

Students can also use more daylight instead of dorm lighting, called “daylighting.” This would be easy for some residence halls that face the sun for a majority of the day and have large windows.

TakePart also suggests cutting down the amount of meat people consume every week. Doing so can help save water and limit CO2 emissions. Cutting meat out of your diet completely can help save up to 5,000 pounds of CO2 emissions a year.

Living in Amherst, students can easily buy good food locally which reduces emissions that come from transporting other food. The large amount of local food sources give them the opportunity to eat less beef, and the dorms give them the opportunity to recycle.

Reducing and reusing waste is the first solution for waste removal. After that, the waste is recycled, composted or incinerated with energy recovery. Once all these options are exhausted, waste is put in a landfill. The recycling program has almost reached its goal of recycling or composting 60 percent of the waste generated on campus.

Eco-Rep, another campus program, aims to become an environmental mentoring program. Each area of the campus has an Eco-Rep who works to create awareness of environmental issues as well as help students reduce their energy waste.

Other initiatives involve green buildings and technology.

“A lot of the initiatives the campus does are infrastructural,” Stoffel said. “When it comes to students, they’re in charge of behavior. A building is only as efficient as the people who use it.”

Stoffel would like to see an initiative that would bill individual students for their own electric expenses by charging each building based on their specific energy use.

“Students could be in charge of having to pay the electricity since the residence halls’ energy use is individually metered,” he said. “Students could then decide collectively if they want to limit their energy use. If they all work together they can make a market difference.”

Other campuses around the United States have launched programs like Eco-Reps. Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York is home to two dormitories with the Energy Star label. This label is given out by Energy Star, a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy for energy-efficient products and practices. The two dorms at Ithaca College have energy-efficient boilers, digitally controlled heating systems and weather-stripping.

After learning that she could reduce her impact on the environment in some fairly simple ways, Yessenow would be willing to change her routine.

“Electricity is definitely not the first thing I think of with global warming issues,” she said. “Now I do what I can and I recycle, but I could do more. One person turns into many and that can definitely help.”

Danielle Kahn can be reached at [email protected]