Q I'm a student moving out of my parents' house. I want my apartment to be eco-friendly but I can't spend a fortune. Is this impossible?
A Oh, I can almost smell the freedom on you. You can finally eat what you want (cheese doodles and beer), when you want (4 am), where you want (on the roof with your friends). Most students run out and buy the cheapest crap they can get (hence the cheese doodles), the majority of which is loaded with chemicals, synthetics and wrapped in wads of non-recyclable packaging.
But don't worry, as an earth-conscious back-to-schooler you have lots of affordable green options to choose from. Let's start with the kitchen. Whatever you do, don't run out and buy a cheap non-stick pan. They're made with super-persistent chemicals, so you don't want to be burning anything in these. Best to get stainless steel or cast-iron hand-me downs.
As for munchables, there's no denying organic food is damn expensive, but it's good for the planet, and some things are a pretty good deal, like a giant box of President's Choice organic lettuce, organic milk and big bags of cereal.
If you're going to stock your freezer and cupboards with packaged goods, check the health food store first. You can get organic mac 'n' cheese and organic frozen soy pizzas. Also, you'd be surprised how many mainstream grocery stores are carrying organic stuff these days, so you can find frozen organic burritos at Dominion and organic milk at No Frills.
But in the fall (and spring) you should really focus on buying local produce (even if it's not organic) since it doesn't have to be trucked as far and it's cheaper than organic, so that's a score. Local farmers' markets are a great place to get a basket of apples or pears for about two bucks, especially if you show up around closing time.
Buy everything in bulk. That way you can cut back on packaging and save at the cash register. Stop in at a bulk store and fill up on spices, pastas and peanut butter. And say no to styrofoam-encased noodles! Get the kind that come in paper instead.
Of course, the bulk concept doesn't just apply to food. It works for toilet paper (make sure to get the recycled kind, often cheaper cuz it's a little rougher) and cleaning products, too. Your apartment is bound to get pretty skuzzy, especially if you have lazy roommates. Don't just grab those buckets of nasty, potentially hormone-disrupting chemical cleaning products from the grocery store. And definitely pull out the picket signs if someone in your house wants to bring in disposable mops, toilet wands and cloths. Your local health food store has tons of natural cleaners, and you can often refill your old bottle at the store.
You'll need something to do your dishes with (even if you don't do them all that often). Skip the petrochemical-based stuff loaded with artificial scents and reach for a solid local natural brand like Nature Clean. If you want a little scent in your sink, Ecover, Earth Friendly and Citra-Solv make some yummy-smelling sudsy ones. If hair and muck has collected in your bathroom sink, stay away from super-caustic drain chemicals. Instead, pour some baking soda and vinegar down there, followed by a kettle of boiling water every week or so if you can remember. You could also try a plunger and some enzyme-based drain cleaners from the health store. (Call your landlord to get someone to snake it if you're really plugged up.)
Okay, so backpacks are hardly ever cool, but dude, everyone will freak when they see the solar panels imbedded in your messenger bag. The panels will charge your cellphone, iPod or any rechargeable AA batteries while you walk or bike to school (from Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth, www.grassrootsstore.com).
While you're at Grassroots, snag some biodegradable corn pens, recycled plastic binders and 100 per cent post-consumer day planners, notebooks and computer paper.
Look for used versions of your textbooks - they're cheaper, plus it's a great way to recycle knowledge and cut back on paper consumption.
If you need furniture, head to Goodwill for old tables and stuff. But you're best to avoid old lumpy couches - those crumbling cushions are putting persistent flame retardants into your home. Most organic furniture costs a fortune, but you can get cheap sofas (and mattresses) made without harmful fire retardants at Ikea. Its desks, shelves and the like are also all formaldehyde-free, which is a bonus. Everything in the store is free of the nasty plastic PVC, too.
Make sure everyone in your house is recycling. Put a green bin in your bathroom and label it as a place to toss tissue paper and menstrual pads (yep, they can compost them into soil). Ban long showers (10 minutes tops!) and ask your landlord for a cheap water-saving shower head and $5 toilet dam you can put in the back of the tank. (It'll save your landlord money, too).
Oh, and don't forget to bike, walk or TTC to class. If you're all the way at Humber or York and you take your mom's old car to night classes, make sure to carpool as often as possible, and know that jack-rabbit starts and aggressive driving use 40 per cent more gas than driving at the speed limit.
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