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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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Students’ environmentally friendly lifestyles surveyed

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part weekly series on environmental attitudes of students. Part two will be published next week.

Whether students believe changing a light bulb or recycling empty beer cans after a late-night soiree makes a dent in the larger system, The Minnesota Daily’s “Green Survey” found that the majority of students are considerate of their environment.

The findings show that most students recycle, nearly half the student population reuses plastic bags and roughly one in 10 students choose to eat organically and locally produced food.

Sarah Graves, vice president of EcoWatch, a student group that focuses on expanding environmental dialogue, said the college-age generation has more pressure to change habits because environmental problems will become evident during their lifetime.

She said the only way changes will be made is on an individual level and by choices made by consumers.


According to the survey, 80 percent of students recycle aluminum most or all of the time. Only 4 percent said they rarely or never recycle.

Sarah Wolbert is an architecture and sustainable design graduate student who also serves as an officer of Greenlight, a group creating sustainability initiatives within the College of Design. She said many students don’t know where their recyclables at the University go, beyond the plastic bins around campus.

Some of the recycling goes to Georgia or South Carolina, because it’s cheaper for the University, but large amounts of gasoline are used in the shipping process, she said.

“At a public university, with the way public education funding is going, it’s really important to be aware of how we can do this economically sustainably as well as environmentally sustainably,” Wolbert said.

Wolbert said Greenlight is working on a project to demystify the recycling process to students.

The city of Minneapolis provides a $7 monthly credit to citizens who participate in the recycling program, making it cheaper to recycle than to throw all items in the trash. The program saves citizens $84 a year.

According to the city’s Web site, the amount of total recycled tonnage has been slowly but steadily increasing over the past decade.

Graves said sometimes University students may not have a lot of control over the recycling programs of their housing situations.

Nate Tickner, an architecture and sustainable design masters student and officer of Greenlight, said it’s cheaper to produce than to recycle, so most garbage finds its way to the landfill instead of incinerators.

Eating organically and locally

Grocery stores are providing an increasingly wider selection of organic products – even Wal-Mart recently began diving into the organic market – yet only 10 percent of students reported eating organically.

Cost differences are one of the major hindrances to students eating more local and organic foods.

Wolbert said for her, it’s more time- and cost-effective to eat organically and locally overall.

“I think eating organically, getting your food from a local co-op, is much more affordable than going out to Erbert and Gerbert’s every day,” she said. “But it all comes down to your personal decisions.”

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found no evidence to support any health benefits of organic foods, the lack of pesticides and environmentally beneficial methods attract “green” consumers.

According to the survey, 9 percent of students buy locally produced food.

Tickner said it’s important to question what people are putting into their bodies and where their food comes from.

He said there’s a big debate between eating organically and eating locally.

“The ideal is to have an organic farm in Minnesota,” he said. “Buying locally is as important as buying organically.”

Many consumers prefer to buy locally because of the freshness of the food.

“If you talk to the best chefs in the city,” he said, “they only want fresh produce.”

Tickner said for society’s sake and for his health, he is willing to pay the extra price for organic and local foods.

Light bulbs and plastic bags

According to the survey, 53 percent of students reported using compact fluorescent light bulbs in their homes.

While fluorescent light bulbs cost three to 10 times more than nonfluorescent light bulbs, their life span is eight to 15 times longer.

Wolbert said using one carbon fluorescent light bulb saves one ton of carbon dioxide being omitted over its life span.

“That said, I’m not encouraging anyone to take out a perfectly working light bulb and throw that away,” she said. “I feel that if something’s working you can use it until it’s gone.”

Forty-seven percent of students reported reusing shopping bags.

But soon students may not be asked the popular question “paper or plastic” when going to the store.

Many local businesses are discontinuing the use of plastic bags, and Tickner said China recently outlawed the use of plastic bags altogether.

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