Story and Photos By Kaitlin Oki
1. DON’T FILL THE LANDFILL
You mean you’ve been throwing all those beer cans, Solo cups and empty handles into the trash? With the new implementation of single-stream recycling throughout Truckee Meadows earlier this year, there’s not much of an excuse for irresponsibly disposing of recyclable materials. Instead of whining about sorting glass and aluminum, you can now invest in setting up two garbage cans in your kitchen — one due for recycle-land and the other for the landfill.
And, if you’re like me, perhaps place another container under the sink for compostable materials (e.g., banana peels, eggshells, old chemistry notes) to further reduce your garbage pile. Most houses don’t include compost bins, but instead of spending your copious college funds on the $150 Deluxe Weatherproof Super-Tumbler Eco-Master Composter 3000 at Home Depot, simply invest in an old garbage can and a shovel or call up a local business with an abundance of wooden pallets to build your own. Composting not only reduces your overall landfill contribution, but also provides an excellent source of free fertilizer for your lawn, garden or houseplants.
2. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF SOMEBODY TURNED YOU ON AND LEFT?
Sure the rent is low, but the utilities are atrocious. As a current tenant of a rental house on the infamous College Drive in old northwest, my power bill often ranges from a dirt-cheap $40, when the weather is decent, to a sky-high $400, when winter descends on Reno in the form of pure icy evil. I love my house, but screw the idiot who called himself an architect and designed this piece of crap. The insulation is practically nonexistent and the flimsy plastic blinds — you know, the kind that fall off the window every couple weeks for no apparent reason — do little to combat the insidious drafts of the north-facing windows in the winter and completely fail to block out the scorching summer sunshine on the south side. Not to mention, every heating vent in the house is directly underneath an enormous window. Who thought this was a good idea?
Thank God the house completely lacks an air conditioning unit, or I wouldn’t have any summer savings. But as a result, I spend the summers in the considerably cooler backyard shade, strategizing optimal fan placement throughout the house. The bitter segments of winter have my roommates bundled in coats while watching Netflix as I stand in a 120-degree shower to return my body temperature to normal before bed. That said, it’s important and beneficial to consider these elements when selecting your new residence. How’s the insulation? Do you have the money to buy or the time to make curtains? Is the thermostat programmable? An efficiently designed house or apartment can save you dollars and significantly reduce your power consumption. And as a bonus, NV Energy oftentimes rewards its customers with discounts just for knocking down the thermostat a couple degrees.
3. EVERY DOLLAR IS A VOTE
I’m not going to waste anyone’s time riffing on industrial agriculture at the moment (read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” for the full take), but taking your grocery shopping seriously is one of the biggest ways you can impact the world environmentally. With each beep at the checkout stand, you’re demanding more of that product and supporting that particular company. You might as well support responsible companies that treat employees, animals and the environment well.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Shopping responsibly is time-consuming and expensive! Chances are, if you’re a typical college student with a limited palette, empty wallet and a tight schedule, you find what you need at Wal-Mart and pick the cheapest option, never mind labels, crossing your fingers for the easy-microwave instructions. At times it is possible to find affordable, responsible food, but more often that not, the local, organic, healthier, unprocessed stuff comes at a price — literally. However, just because the cheap stuff costs less doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden costs. If you’re paying ridiculously low prices, it’s likely at the expense of someone or something else (e.g., an employee, the environment, an animal and/or your health). This doesn’t mean you need to start shopping at Whole Foods, but investing in Ellis Jones’s pocket-sized “The Better World Shopping Guide” for seven bucks can help you navigate Winco quickly and responsibly. This neat, petite guide grades individual companies based on environmental and employee-treatment ethics for every major commodity, from shampoo and deodorant to eggs and beer.
Kaitlin Oki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.