It’s 2017 and climate change is an especially hot topic this year. Being a college student, I constantly ask myself what I can do to help the environment and how I can live more sustainably while being realistic. I don’t have billions of dollars in my pocket. I can’t force every school to install solar panels or patrol every student so that they recycle and compost properly. However, there are many easy ways every college student can live sustainably. So, I compiled a list of simple, easy but effective ways that I believe we can help the environment one habit at a time!
1. Carry a reusable water bottle.
Using a reusable water bottle is super easy and great for the environment. Not only does it save you from spending money on bottled water, but it also reduces the amount of plastic water bottles made and thrown away. Lots of colleges have water bottle refill stations around campus and all you have to do is remember to pack your reusable water bottle in your backpack before leaving your dorm!
2. Eat your food in the dining hall.
Instead of taking your food to-go, think about eating your food in the cafeteria and using the reusable dishes and utensils. By dining in and not using the takeout containers, you’re reducing the amount of trash, which then reduces the amount of carbon emissions emitted in the atmosphere. You’ll also have the opportunity to eat a sit down meal and socialize with friends. Socializing + sustainability = yay!
3. Save your leftovers.
On that note: when you do eat in and you can’t finish all your food, instead of throwing away your perfectly edible food, take back your leftovers. When you throw away your food, it doesn’t just decompose in the earth (Unless you compost! But I realize that not all college campuses have compost bins, unfortunately). Instead, “when food is disposed in a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane – a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide,” according to Feeding America. THIS IS NOT GOOD.
Look to see if your school has eco-friendly/reusable to-go containers (I know Santa Clara has eco-trays: green, reusable to-go containers that you can just return when dirty). And another positive to keeping your leftovers? You’ll be saving money so you won’t have to pay for your next meal. It’s a win-win situation for both you and the earth.
4. Shop at thrift stores.
Going shopping with friends? Instead of hitting up the nearby mall, think about checking out your local thrift stores. Reusing clothes is much better for the environment, as clothes production leads to waste and pollution. According to Unwrinkling, “Producing synthetic fibers like polyester requires lots of energy, as well as crude oil like petroleum; byproducts include toxic gases and chemicals. Transportation-related pollution also decreases when clothing is re-used, as new clothes are much more likely to travel long distances before being sold than are their second-hand counterparts.” The possibilities of finding unique and fun clothes at thrift stores are endless AND you’ll save yourself money. Why not give thrift shopping a try?
5. Share clothes with your floormates and friends.
Or better yet, if you’re a broke college student like me who wants new clothes, think about sharing clothes with your roommate, suite mates, floor mates, or any friends who lives in the dorms. That’s the great part about college: all your friends live close by, which makes it super easy to share closets! Once again, by forgoing buying new clothes, you’re reducing the amount of clothes being produced and lessening the amount of waste and pollution released into the air. HELLO A NEW WARDROBE AND A CLEANER ENVIRONMENT.
6. Bring your own reusable bags to the market and stores.
If you live in California, 9/10 times the stores are going to charge you an additional 5-10 cents for each plastic bag you need. This extra fee (which might seem small in the moment but adds up!) gives some Californians the incentive to bring their own reusable bag. Whether you live in California or not, think about bringing your own reusable bag when shopping next time. Some stores will give you a small discount, but most importantly, you’re helping the environment by eliminating the use of an extra plastic and paper bag.
7. Exercise outside.
One of the many reasons I love Santa Clara is its nice weather year-round. This gives me the opportunity (and no excuse) to run outside whenever I feel like it. So instead of going to the gym and using the electricity-run machines, think about exercising outside and enjoying the fresh air. And for those who go to school in the Midwest or East Coast where exercising outside is totally not an option in the negative degree winters and cold snow, I understand. Keep warm, go to the gym. However, I’d definitely recommend taking advantage of the nice weather in the fall and spring. There’s just something so refreshing about breathing in that natural air and being outside. Who knows, you might actually love it.
8. Study in group spaces.
Instead of studying alone in your room with the lights on, utilize group study spaces on campus, like the library or the common lounges in the dorms. The lights in these group spaces are going to be on anyway, so take advantage of that and help eliminate the amount of electricity being produced!
9. Shop at farmers’ markets and support local farmers.
Have some extra spending money? What about checking out your local farmers’ market and supporting your local farmers? I always love going to the farmers’ market in Santa Clara (located right around the corner from ShareTea on Jackson Street for all you SCU students! Go check it out!); it’s always a great way to start my weekend. Buying locally grown food means less energy and petroleum is used to ship food across the world AND your food is fresh and tasty! Bring on the big, juicy fruits n veggies!
10. Go meatless one day per week #MeatlessMonday!
Join the #MeatlessMonday campaign, a global movement dedicated to giving up meat one day a week. By giving up meat, you’re minimizing water usage, reducing greenhouse gases, and reducing fuel dependence. The amount of water needed to produce meat is much greater than that of vegetables and grains. According to Meatless Monday, “Approximately 1,850 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of beef” while “Approximately 39 gallons of water are needed to produce a pound of vegetables.” Meat production also produces more greenhouse gases than vegetables, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, the three main contributing sources of greenhouse gases. Finally, “The meat industry uses so much energy to produce grain for livestock that if instead we used the grain to feed people following a vegetarian diet, it would be enough to feed about 840 million people,” says Meatless Monday.
Try to make the effort to go meatless one day a week. I guarantee you, there are so many yummy vegetarian alternatives to eating meat that eventually you won’t even notice it gone from your diet once a week. For some yummy vegetarian recipes, check out this website.
As college students, WE are going to be the ones living with the effects of our actions today. That’s why it’s especially important we be aware of our actions and the impacts they make on the earth. We might not have billions of dollars to pay for windmills, zero emissions transportation in every city, or the power to enforce sustainable laws for the entire nation to follow. BUT, we do have the ability to do all these simple, easy, and effective habits listed above.
Now, I’m not saying we’re going to completely solve and combat climate change by doing all these actions. But do know that these small changes all add up and have the potential to make a difference. If I can get one person reading this article to make a change in habit in their daily life, then that will make me happy.