Conservation offers another alternative to recycling

Gas prices are soaring. Natural resources are diminishing. The costs of energy are increasing every day.

While recycling can certainly help — it’s always better to fill the blue bins with unwanted paper than it is to throw that paper into the trash — there’s another, lesser-known way of keeping costs down while preserving resources at the same time.


Conservation could be considered a precursor to recycling — the more you conserve, the less you have to recycle. And there are several ways to practice conservation in your office and home in two of the most important areas — light and water.

“The benefits to conservation are twofold,” said Bruce Backus, assistant vice chancellor for environmental health and safety. “There are both economic and environmental benefits to conserving materials.

“From an economic standpoint, simple common-sense use of lighting and water can save thousands of dollars a year. And conserving more energy, paper and water also leads to less waste that sometimes gets distributed into the environment.”

Perhaps the biggest way to save money and energy involves lighting. A quick rundown of a checklist shows several very simple — and in some cases, obvious — ways to conserve:

  • Turn off all lights not in use;
  • Use bulbs of lower wattage;
  • Use natural sunlight when possible;
  • Keep bulbs and fixtures clean;
  • Focus light on your task; and
  • Use fluorescent lights wherever possible.

Fluorescent lights use about 25 percent as much energy as normal lights and can last 10 times longer, saving energy and replacement labor.

Adding occupancy sensors can help. In rooms that are not occupied constantly, such as conference rooms, lunchrooms and bathrooms, sensors will automatically turn lights on when people enter the room and off after they leave. Lighting accounts for 40 percent of energy used in office buildings.

Regarding water, a way to avoid waste is to never put water down the drain when there may be another use for it such as watering a plant or garden, or cleaning. When washing dishes, fill the sink and let the dishes soak before rinsing, instead of using constantly running water.

Heating and cooling is another area prone to wasted resources. Some easy pitfalls and their solutions include using natural ventilation or fans for air circulation and cooling needs; using window-shading devices and placing work stations away from direct sunlight in the heat of the summer; setting the thermostat at 68 degrees Fahrenheit or lower in the winter and 78 degrees Fahrenheit or above in the summer.

Perhaps most important is to keep the heating and cooling to a minimum. Heating and cooling accounts for half of the total energy use in office buildings.

Finally, a third big way to save energy is through judicious use of electricity. You know that computer you leave on every night? Turn it off.

If you can’t turn it off every night because of system backups or upgrades, talk with your administrator to find nights when you can shut the machine off. Weekends are especially important.

When replacing computers, purchase the new energy-efficient types that use up to 90 percent less energy.

An energy conservation Web site uses the example of Cole & Weber, an advertising agency in Seattle with about 30 workers. The workers turn their computers off at night and during weekends, which saves $3,000 in energy costs a year — enough to pay for a new computer.

However, sometimes there is no alternative but to recycle.

Before recycling your office paper, make sure you fully used it. Print draft documents on the back side of no-longer-needed documents. Use the duplex feature on photocopiers, making copies on the front and back sides of paper.

Use the designated bins on the campuses to recycle paper, aluminum cans and other materials, and do not contaminate those waste streams with other trash.

Also, the University’s environmental health and safety (EHS) office will help recycle several items that people might not think are reusable. Some of these are considered “mandatory waste disposal” items that must be handled through the EHS office.

The items include:

  • Freon and oils from white goods, such as refrigerators, air conditioners and vacuum pumps;
  • Hazardous metals from electronic equipment containing printed circuit boards/computers and computer monitors;
  • Hazardous metals such as lithium, mercury, silver, nickel, cadmium and lead from many specialty batteries; and
  • Mercury, lead, phosphor, glass and aluminum from fluorescent lamps.

For more information, go online to

For a complete list of materials that can be recycled, including used office furniture, or other hazardous materials that EHS will dispose of, go online to