It hurts to say it, but summer’s almost over. Soon students around the world are going to be heading back to the accidentally-nod-off-while-studying sleep schedules and caffeine addictions commonly associated with higher education. With climate change all over the place, a lot of schools are instituting sustainability plans and initiatives, and many people are wondering what they can do to help in their personal lives. Here are 7 ways for students to keep their eco-footprints lower than their semesterly tuition bills.
As far as college goes, in my opinion, the dining hall or d-hall is one of the most important buildings on campus. It’s got cute girls coming back from volleyball and handsome football players who have just finished their daily workout, so they’ve got that I’m-sweating-but-it’s-like-an-Axe-body-spray-commercial-sexy sweat. Most importantly, it’s got the stuff that keeps you alive–in addition to half-off-Wednesday at Salvation Army–food. But there’s a lot of stuff in d-hall that can be avoided, especially if you’re trying to keep the environment in mind and attract the down-to-earth hippie chicks and dudes. You’ll want to avoid (or at least cut down on) meat products, use reusable or compostable food cutlery, and carry a container for uneaten food. If you really want to have a big impact, think about asking your school to institute a “Meatless Monday” or “Less Meat Monday.” The meat-eaters might hate you for a little while, but you’ll earn points with all those gorgeous hippie kids.
I know how hard it is to remember to turn off lights, power strips and, of course, the fan, but saving electricity is an easy way to lower your impact on the environment and it doesn’t really take that much effort. I know it seems like a life or death situation when you’re deciding whether or not you should go in and turn the lights off or run to class because you woke up five minutes late and you’ve got a test today, but being a little late for class isn’t going to make or break your grade. Before you run off, turn off. Pro tip: plug them all into one power strip and it’s a one-touch solution. If you want to get really involved, ask your college to hold a contest for the freshman dorm building that saves the most energy. Be sure to have cool prize incentives like gift cards to local restaurants and educate people on why you’re doing the project. If they show interest, suggest they come to the next environmental club meeting.
Personal care is a great way to reduce your consumptive footprint and take advantage of natural products. You’re probably going to go into Bed, Bath, and Beyond and buy a mattress cover, sheets, pillows, a shower caddy, deodorant, shampoo, soap, and whatever else you use in the shower. Folks might head to CVS to get condoms and Sephora to get whatever people get at Sephora, but before you get all those brand-name body lotions and shampoos you’ve been buying since you were twelve, be sure to check out the Good Guide and see what the environmental, social, and health impacts of all your products (yes, all of your products) have. Try to avoid those sudsy microbeads and stay away from anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Having a car on campus might seem like the best thing in the world, but in terms of eco-footprint it’s one of the worst. Instead of relying on cars, use public transportation, buy/rent a bike, or just walk. Even if you’ve got a big campus, there’s surely another way to get around… and with gas prices as high as they are getting to be, this route will be much more wallet-friendly, too.
When you’re buying all those notebooks and pens and paper be sure to buy the recycled versions. It might cost you a little more, but it’s a cost that you’re putting toward a future of clean air and water. Before you go and buy recycled materials, even, check to see if there are any other options in your house like old notebooks, binders, and pens. I know you’ve got that drawer full of pens that no one ever uses and I’m sure your parents or housemates have some notebooks they only used two or three pages of. Along the same lines: rent your textbooks from places like Half.com instead of buying them. Or, if you’re going to buy, buy used textbooks. A lot of colleges will let you mark used textbooks, as long as you don’t go crazy with the margin comments, and you’ll save money and energy.
I’m not big on shopping, other than at Salvation Army–like I said, half-off-Wednesdays, check ‘em out–but if you’re going to go shopping for groceries and clothes and whatever else you need to buy, be sure to bring your own bags. Soon, most places will be charging money for plastic and paper bags or banning them altogether, and a lot of that plastic ends up in the pacific garbage patch and endangers marine life. Think of the seals! Buy local, seasonal produce whenever possible, and hit up bulk food stores to reduce the amount of packaging you throw out.
I’m a huge coffee drinker. I mean huge. That’s not a fact that I’m proud of, but I’d like to think I offset my coffee costs by not sleeping as much and getting work done/taking pictures of my cat and sharing them on the Internet. But back to the point: coffee cups aren’t eco-friendly. Even the compostable ones your school most likely uses aren’t being composted or aren’t made of eco-friendly materials. I did a project on the Eco-Tainer Cup for one of my classes and a lot of the paper used is virgin paper, the dyes are soy- (not water)- based, and the plastic film on the inside of the cup comes from an industrial agriculture operation from a giant cornfield in the mid-west. Long story short: you’ll save a lot of resources by switching to a reusable mug. I even like to keep mine in my bag, sometimes, just in case I want something to drink and need a place to put it. You know where they have reusable coffee mugs? Salvation Army on half-off-Wednesdays. I’m just sayin’.
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