September 3, 2019

You can help save the planet — here are some simple ways to get started

Welcome to Arizona State University, where we harvest dates from our palm trees and LEED certify our new buildings, and where zero waste is the goal. Even if you’re not a sustainability major, you’re probably trying to reduce your carbon footprint and help the planet we live on.

ASU was just named to the top 10 of Sierra magazine's Coolest Schools — an annual list of the greenest colleges by the national magazine of the Sierra Club — for its wide-ranging efforts, from a fair trade pledge to climate-neutral construction to coral reef research.

And there are plenty of opportunities around the university for students to help. Here are 10 easy ways to go green; many of them are cheap or even free!

1. Move it

Bicycle, skateboard, walk, ride the light rail and Orbit shuttles or call a Lyft. Last year the ride service company created a carbon offset program to ensure all its rides are carbon-neutral. Don’t have a bike? You can buy one cheaply from ASU Surplus. They have hundreds to choose from. After you get your gently-used bike, you’ll need a helmet and bike lock. Parking and Transit has you covered. Buy them at any of their offices for 50% off full price.

2. Join the crowd

ASU has a number of organizations devoted to going green. Among them are the Sun Devils 4 Fair Trade. This club supports trade between companies in developed countries and producers in developing countries in which fair prices are paid to the producers. 

3. Fill your plate

Eat at Engrained Café to show your support of organic, local food. (There are two locations, in Tempe and downtown Phoenix.)  Enjoy plant based meal stations at all the dining halls. Living off campus and cooking for yourself? Stretch that student budget by grocery shopping at Borderlands Food Bank, an Arizona-based nonprofit that rescues food before it goes to the landfill. Borderlands is one of a growing number of groups working to fight food waste in America, where more than 25 million people are unsure where their next meal will come from. You can buy 70 pounds of produce for $12

4. Spend it like you mean it

Support ASU’s Fair Trade designation by buying fair trade products, such as coffee, chocolate, nuts and granola bars, at ASU Pod Stores. Buy used clothing and appliances. Look for less packaging. Use reuseable bags. Refuse to use single-use plastics. And this semester, Zero Waste is planning an on-campus trading post with clothing that has been donated by students and staff. 

5. Talk trash

Bring your own utensils, reusable straw, and refillable water bottle. Recycle correctly, including using the Blue Bags. During 2014, ASU achieved a 26.5% waste diversion rate. Sun Devils diverted more than 1,200 pounds of polystyrene, which could fill an average-size one-bedroom apartment. And Ditch the Dumpster: Every year ASU students moving on or off campus realize they have accumulated more stuff than they need or have space for. Many of those items do not belong in the landfill. Ditch the Dumpster allows for reuse, repurpose or recycling of those items. Students who moved out of residence halls in spring 2019 donated 66,740 pounds of material to community organizations to be repurposed, 7,425 pounds more than 2018. 

6. Plant a seed

The ASU Seed Library is a free campus seed project committed to increasing the capacity of our community to grow wholesome food from the basic building blocks of life — seeds. To start your garden, just ask to see the seed boxes at the front desk at Noble Science Library. There are community gardens on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus on the west side of Health South and at the Polytechnic campus. Have no idea how to garden? Susan Norton teaches PAC 240 – Physical Activity in the Garden on the Poly campus. Harvest oranges in February. The ASU Arboretum and Sun Devil Dining harvest five tons of Seville sour oranges, which are juiced, bottled and stored at the Sun Orchard facility. Oranges are used in delicious recipes at Sun Devil Dining kitchens across ASU campuses. You can also harvest and sell dates at the three-acre date farm at Poly.

7. Pitch in

Spend the day serving the community with fellow Sun Devils! A 16-year tradition, Devils in Disguise is the largest day of student-led service at ASU. Last year, more than 1,500 Sun Devils participated, providing more than 6,000 hours of service to 45 community service agencies. Make a significant impact in the local and global community with Sparky’s Day of Service. Volunteer with the Zero Waste department to help with Blue Bag sorts or stadium clean up after sporting events. 

8. Play ball

Green football games highlight ASU's standing as a national leader in sustainability. This fall it’s the Sept. 21 game against Colorado. All food, containers, flyers and other materials provided to fans at the game are either recyclable or compostable. Zero Waste ambassadors will wear blue vests at the game and speak with fans to educate them on composting and recycling. They carry cards with specific examples of ballpark foods and materials. After the game, the ambassadors sort through all of the compost and recycle bins to ensure that each piece of waste makes it to the right spot.

9. Get smart

Enroll in or take classes with the School of Sustainability. In study abroad programs you can witness and learn sustainability principles and solutions in international community, urban and political settings.

10. Get with the program

Report water leaks or buildings that are too hot or cold to Facilities Maintenance. Be aware of “vampire" energy and unplug cords that are not in use. Participate in Carbon Free Day on April 17. The full-day event extends to all ASU campuses and helps reach its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2025. Sun Devils can pledge to ride a bike instead of driving, eat plant based meals on campus or other carbon reduction methods such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator. 

Top photo: Undergraduate Brianna Smith pulls seeded lettuce out during the PPE 240 Gardening class that focuses on gardening in desert climates on the Tempe campus on April 23, 2019. The course, fulfilling physical activity requirements, is a partnership between Mary Lou Fulton, the School of Sustainability and Barrett, The Honors College and is open to all university students. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4502