The environment may not be the number one thing most students spend time thinking about. But the truth is that wherever there are people, local ecosystems are affected. And this is no less the case at college and university campuses.
In fact, the likelihood is high that university campuses end up producing far more waste than other types of residence, simply because of the high population they are catering to. After all, in some areas the population can jump tens of thousands when university term begins!
So, how can you incorporate a little green-mindedness into your daily student life, and help to create a more sustainable campus? Here are 8 ways to get started:
1. Stop using disposable items
One of the biggest sources of waste are disposable items such as plastic forks, knives, spoons, cups, water bottles, and everything else which gets used once and then tossed in the trash. Usually, things made of paper are biodegradable, but most disposables composed of plastic aren’t. That means they can sit in landfills for hundreds of years before breaking down.
It can be tempting to save yourself the chore of having to wash dishes. But by sticking to permanent reusable plates, cutlery and cups, you’ll be living much more sustainably – and also save money in the long term.
You can also buy yourself a nice reusable water bottle, instead of buying water every time you go out. Some universities have even banned the sale of bottled water on campus, to encourage everyone to contribute to a more sustainable campus.
2. Buy second-hand, buy local, and re-sell
Although most student dorms come semi-furnished, you may want to add a few extra items like a rug, pictures or even a couch to make the room feel more like home. There are three main points to remember to do this in a sustainable way.
First, buy second-hand items. This means giving new life to something that still has a lot of years left in it. Second, buy locally if possible, instead of ordering from further away. This helps support the regional economy and creates less of a carbon footprint than shipping from out of town. Third, when you move out, resell what you don’t need, or donate it to charity. Some universities actually organize collections of unneeded items at the end of each year, which can then be passed on to new students.
3. Embrace a minimalist lifestyle
One of the most effective ways to live sustainably is to embrace a minimalist lifestyle. This is means only buying something new when you genuinely need it. Really want a new outfit for a party? How about swapping wardrobes with a friend for the evening? Got a craving for pizza? Try making your own, instead of always buying takeout.
Getting used to a minimalist lifestyle while at university can be great preparation for the years to come, when possessions really do tend to start piling up.
4. Don’t get sucked in by student offers
One of the perks of being a student is that you often get lots of offers for all kinds of free stuff. It’s difficult to turn something down when it’s free – but try not to take things just for the sake of it. Accept what you really want and will use, but avoid filling your room with things you know you’ll only end up throwing out.
5. Go digital
Once upon a time there were no alternatives to notebooks, textbooks and folders full of handouts from professors. While there are still plenty of these items floating around university campuses, there’s definitely a switch towards doing things more digitally, and the devices we carry around with us daily help this greatly.
Whenever possible, take advantage of technology to reduce paper usage. Make notes on your computer, and only print things out if you really need to. Just remember to back everything up regularly! To have an even bigger impact on creating a sustainable campus, you can also encourage classmates and staff to go digital too.
6. Get cycling
Driving a car causes pollution: plain and simple. Riding a bike is one of the most sustainable forms of local transportation around, because the only energy it uses is the amount your legs put into it. It’ll also help keep you fit and healthy!
7. Hold off on the heating/air conditioning
Many of us reach to turn on the heating or air conditioning all too quickly – but before you do, try other alternatives first. Just a little chilly? Put on some extra layers of clothing. Getting warm? Open some windows. Of course, there are times when you need to use the heating or air conditioning systems, but try to keep it to a minimum.
Finally, perhaps the easiest way to create a more sustainable campus is to recycle as much as you can. Whether it’s paper, plastic, electronics or clothing, many college campuses have recycling facilities, so find out where these are located. Otherwise, there may be other local recycling facilities you can use. Encourage your friends to do the same, and if your university doesn’t have a well-developed recycling program, why not take the lead in getting one developed? It’ll have a big impact, and look great on your resume!