A new school year usually brings to mind a trip to the office supply store with Mom to pick up the essentials and more. A brand new notebook for every subject, pens and pencils galore, enough lined paper to wallpaper a house...there's something satisfying about buying and labeling each crisp new object and tucking it neatly into a backpack for that fabled first day of classes.
This same satisfaction can still be yours, with a more Oberlin, more sustainable twist. Instead of heading straight for Oberlin's bookstore, which is unfortunately run by the Barnes and Noble conglomerate (enemy of independent bookstores everywhere), please visit the Recycled Products Co-op first! It's a student-run group that makes and sells notebooks, binders, pens, pencils, and miscellaneous school supplies from used and recycled products. The RPC lives on the 3rd floor of Wilder (the can't-miss-it student union), and has its hours posted around campus. The students are friendly, the supplies come with cool stencils and designs, and the prices are great. Their specialty is a hand-made homework planner where each page has been illustrated by a different Oberlin student. If you find a page with little smiling bugs on it, that's mine. The RPC always enthusiastically welcomes new members, and it's a great way to get involved with the recycling movement on campus. If you're really into it, you can get a paid job with the Oberlin College Recyclers. Three guesses what they do.
I don't mean to rip apart the Oberlin Bookstore, which has a warm and helpful staff and a nice selection of everything from bedsheets to binders. I've also been informed that Oberlin hired Barnes and Noble to manage the bookstore (for a fee) when no independent owner could be found (after a long search) who wanted to own or manage it. Thus, if it weren't for Barnes and Noble, we wouldn't have a bookstore. The bookstore is a money-losing proposition for the college, and if no students bought materials there, it would lose even more (which in time would make tuition go up). Knowing this, I merely advocate saving some trees and gasoline by checking out the RPC first. What you can't find there, pick up at the bookstore, where your money still helps the local community. Whatever you do, don't go to Wal-Mart.
I've also found that rooting through old high school stuff can sometimes supply a student with everything he or she needs. I can't tell you how many notebooks I unearthed in my closet where I only used up the first third or so with notes on basic Spanish or Algebra II, leaving the rest beautifully blank. I simply rip out and recycle the used pages, and bring the rest to Oberlin. As for pens and pencils, I found enough at home to keep me scribbling until I graduate. You'll be doing a lot of printing in the library no matter what you major in, so get in the habit of printing double sided (an easy option on Microsoft Word). Almost every professor at Oberlin accepts double sided essays, and a handy list next to each library printer lets you know if yours will smile or frown on your paper-saving ways.
One last note: Buy even fewer supplies if you plan on taking lecture notes via laptop--a popular Obie habit. If you're caught in a dilemma over using electricity versus using paper, you'll have to meditate on that one yourself.