As college students who are involved in classes, activities and social events, it often feels like we are too busy to worry about being “environmentally friendly.” With so many other things to do, we don’t have extra time to spend on rewriting our lives to help the environment. But what many students don’t realize is that being environmentally conscious doesn’t have to take up time—actually, it’s often a time- and money-saver. The challenge we have as students is to take the little time and effort it takes to stay aware of environmentally savvy options and take advantage of them. With that in mind, here are six effortless tips that, after four years, will really make a difference.
Use a reusable water bottle. Here’s a tip that you’ve probably heard time after time—and for good reason! According to the Container Recycling Institute, 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away every day in the United States. That’s a lot of plastic bottles. One person purchasing a reusable water bottle saves dozens of plastic bottles a month and maybe hundreds a year. Other reusable containers can be useful too. Do you ever bring snacks or lunches to class? Investing in reusable containers will make up for the wasteful ziploc bags or plastic wrap that you might have used before. Buy a metal straw, and apply “metal straw thinking” to other plasticware too: forks, knives, cups, caps. Buying silverware or glassware that you reuse can go a long way in reducing plastic waste.
Cultivate little energy-saving habits. Until a couple years ago, I constantly forgot to turn off my lights. Saving electricity is an important part of caring for the environment, especially in dorms where we don’t see exactly how much our electricity bill costs. According to the World Economic Forum, around 68% of all energy produced in the United States is wasted. Start by making a habit of switching off your lights and lamps, but keep going by remembering to unplug fans and other devices. If there’s a light on the device, there are still currents going through the circuit. Unplug it.
Learn how your school’s recycling system works—and use it. We’re all familiar with those recycling diagrams everyone walks past and ignores. When you’re rushing to class after lunch, you don’t feel like you have time to analyze the recycling map for where you should throw your trash. If you spend five minutes reading the recycling guide once, you’ll get the gist and and more easily be able to form that important habit.
Buy supplies in bulk. There are benefits to buying jumbo-sized shampoo. Purchasing the larger versions of your cosmetics and food results in less waste, more product and usually more money value. If you’re buying your supplies in bulk at the beginning of the semester, you’re saving all the extra plastic containers you’d have to throw away for the next couple months.
Be food-conscious in the dining halls. The most infamous downside to buffet-style dining halls is affectionately called the “freshman fifteen.” But there are a number of other downfalls, especially on the environmental side. As a freshman and an upperclassman, the dining options can be overwhelming, and I know I often pile more food on my plate than I will actually eat. The US Department of Agriculture documents that 130 billion pounds of food are wasted every year. That’s about 20 pounds per person in the world—and that number is only for the United States. Making a conscious effort to limit the food we dish onto our plates can make a dent in campus food waste. As a bonus dining tip, try to keep an eye out for food your school might offer that is locally or sustainably sourced.
When it comes to the environment, especially on a college campus, putting in a little bit of effort can create a large output. That output can build up to make a significant impact after four years of consistent environmental consciousness. Taking on these five tips, and finding your own, will help you begin that process.