Let's Save the Planet! Tips to become an Eco-Conscious Student
Thankfully, universities are becoming more environmentally conscious as the years go by, with many promising initiatives being put in place that champion renewable energy and carbon neutrality. Students are continually reminded (especially whilst living in Halls of Residence) about their impact on the environment, as universities are under significant pressure to become more energy efficient and protect their local area. I thought I’d compile a list of easy, affordable ways that students can contribute towards helping the planet whilst saving money at the same time. It’s a win-win!
1. Reduce your plastic
Get yourself a reusable water bottle, that’s the easy bit. Plastic waste takes thousands of years to decompose, so it’s vital to cut back on it where we can. If you’re not a fan of drinking tap water, get yourself a filter jug to give you some peace of mind. There will be lots of water stations at your university, so pack an empty bottle in your bag each morning to save you carrying the excess weight. Taking a reusable coffee cup is also a great idea, as lots of universities now charge for single-use cups.
In terms of packaging, think of your budget. I’m sure we’d all like to go no-plastic, but it’s got to work for your financial situation. Taking advantage of local food markets and zero-waste stores is a fantastic way to reduce waste and buy exactly what you need. Buying food in plastic packing does not make you a bad person, and I definitely buy products wrapped in plastic while I’m shopping. It’s all about doing a little bit at a time, and just having a think before you purchase.
2. Recycle everything
Food, clothes, paper, plastic. So much can be recycled compared to ten years ago, so do your bit and put everything in the right bin. Separate your glass and rinse everything before you put it in the recycling bin to prevent insects and bad smells. If you’re living with international students, they may not be familiar with the recycling system in our country, so make sure to let them know how everything works. Universities may fine your flat if you contaminate your recycling bins, so it’s really important everyone is on the same page. Make a commitment to removing glass from your flat as it’s unsightly and builds up very quickly. It will probably take less than five minutes!
Regarding food waste, remove any outer packaging first! I’ve had to pick out so much plastic from the food bin over the years and it really irritated me. Working together to sort your waste doesn’t have to be tedious, and a build up of rubbish can cause a lot of problems between flatmates. Be honest with each other, and don’t be afraid to chase those who refuse to recycle correctly. We all have to hold each other accountable.
At the end of the year when you’re moving out of accommodation, recycle anything that you don’t need. Crockery and bed linen can often be donated to charities who support those fleeing from violence or send them away to other countries. I’ve seen so many pans dumped in the bin when they are perfectly fine to be reused, simply because no-one wants to take them home or recycle them correctly. Ask your accommodation provider if they are linked with a particular charity that will pass your items on to be used again.
3. Think before you buy
Amazon and eBay make online shopping so easy, but I’d caution about sinking your student loan on unnecessary items. Shopping is fun, but do you really need all those new clothes when you brought a perfectly fine selection from home? Are you actually going to wear those outfits? These are the questions you’ve got to ask yourself before making a purchase. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t treat yourself as I love retail therapy too, but cramming your wardrobe full of random purchases isn’t very environmentally friendly.
Instead, I’d recommend only buying pieces that can be worn throughout the year, in styles that you can merge with your existing clothes. Now, fast fashion has become a topic of hot debate, and I’m the first to say that not everyone can afford to buy slow fashion items. They are clothes that are often handmade or come from sources which secure worker’s rights and reduce wastage. I love the idea, but these clothes are often expensive and have limited size ranges. This is perfectly okay, and I understand why they cost money, but it’s simply out of reach for many students.
My advice on shopping for clothes is:
· Use charity shops for ‘in fashion’ pieces, then you can donate them back when the trend passes.
· Prioritise clothes that keep you warm and protect you from the weather. Winters can vary here but are mostly cold and wet. I’d rather spend money on a winter coat than some cropped shorts.
· Look for sale items. I’ve never bought a coat at full price, and I often pick up summer clothes in the autumn. It’s a great way to refresh your wardrobe whilst saving you money.
· Limit your ‘going out clothes’. Be proud of being an outfit repeater. You don’t need a new set of clothes for every night out, I promise you that nobody is going to care!
· Invest in good shoes. It’s likely that you’ll be doing a fair bit of walking and cycling while you’re at university, so keep your feet dry and warm. I’d recommend a study pair of waterproof boots for the winter that will last you a few years.
· Control your urges. Shops like Primark have endless choice, and it’s easy to spend £50 on items that won’t last too long. Take a close look for loose threads, stains or weird stitching, as well as checking that an item isn’t completely see-through before you buy it.
4. Cook consciously
Food waste is a big problem at universities, and it needs to be tackled. Students often arrive with little idea of how to cook for themselves, portion food and buy the amounts that they actually need. It’s true that you get the hang of it over time, but there are definitely some hacks to help you avoid waste.
Firstly, I’d recommend cooking from scratch where you can. Not only are you controlling exactly what you add to your food, you can make extra portions to freeze which are ideal for nights where you don’t have the time or energy to cook something. Get yourself some plastic boxes and pack away any leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, don’t let anything go in the bin! Also, get yourself some spices to make your dishes more flavourful. I’d recommend salt, pepper, mixed spice, chili flakes, Italian seasoning and a Cajun spice.
Checking your fridge frequently also helps to save you money. Move food that is going bad to the front of your shelf to incentivise you to use it as soon as possible. If you have vegetables that are going soft, chop them up and freeze them, ready to add into pasta sauces or on top of a boring pizza. If you are using sauces from a jar, write on the lid when you opened it! I’ve seen so many people abandon half-filled jars, so make sure you plan to use the rest if you open one. When your milk is coming towards the end of its life, share it with friends or make a white sauce to add to beef mince or a vegetarian alternative for an easy lasagne.
Thinking about your consumption of takeaways will help the planet too. Order with friends or housemates to split the cost of delivery and the petrol that is consumed during the journey. Setting a date for ordering a takeaway will also make it much more meaningful instead of ordering it every few days. It can be tempting to get a delivery but remember that you have food in the fridge that might be going to waste. Ordering food is also an easy way to spend money that you might not have by justifying it as essential. If you know you’re going to have a busy week, cook some meals that you can reheat in the microwave instead. In my mind, a ready meal is still better than ordering out, and many of the containers are now recyclable. There are compromises everywhere, so do what suits you best.
5. Reduce your paper waste
Taking notes on paper will generate a considerable paper consumption. Going digital is one option and has many benefits, including:
· Eliminating the need to buy paper, ring-binders, and plastic pockets, saving you money.
· Your work will be available online, accessible from any device. I’d recommend OneNote, as well as using Google Drive as a free, digital hard drive.
· Notes and current work aren’t at risk of getting lost, allowing you to save time that you would have spent filing or searching for what you need.
However, if you prefer the paper approach, there are still ways to reduce your consumption. Make sure that you reuse your filing materials, including plastic pockets and dividers. Ring binders can be condensed, relabeled, and reused year after year. I’d advise getting a few good quality binders that will survive being bashed around in your bag. Printers may seem like an investment, but I’d recommend buying one over relying on the ones at your university. A £30 printer is perfectly adequate for printing notes and essays; I even printed my dissertation on mine which saved me a lot of money compared to what my friends had to spend. If you have your own printer, it also makes you think a bit more before you print anything off, instead of churning away money in the library.
When you’re finished with your paper, cut it up for scrap or recycle it appropriately. When printing, choose grayscale over colour and print double-sided in ‘draft’ form. This saved me so much ink and paper in the long term and made my printer worth having. When printing any assignments, make sure that you check the requirements, including line spacing and paper margins, and adjust your document accordingly to make sure you’re not penalised.
Well, there you have it! Five tips for being a more eco-conscious student. Saving time and money is an added bonus, especially as these changes are small. Many students are continually lobbying universities through their Student Unions for even more environmental changes, so be sure to join the appropriate societies if that’s a cause which means something to you. These are all changes we can make in our everyday lives to help the planet and reduce wastage in our society.