As an environmental studies major, I think about sustainability a lot. Probably more than most college students, anyway. That being said, I’ve noticed that many of us college students struggle to implement environmentally friendly practices into our busy, hectic lifestyles. Many people don’t know where to begin, and even when students know better, they often find it difficult to choose the most eco-friendly choice because it inconveniences them or just slips their mind. That being said, there are many practices I’ve found to be pretty simple and easy to make a bit of difference and reduce my environmental impact.
First things first: you have to get educated. My first semester here at UD, I didn’t realize plastic bags couldn’t be recycled. Sure, I knew Ziploc bags had to be thrown away, but I didn’t realize that you couldn’t take your recyclables to the dumpster in a trash bag or they would be thrown away instead of recycled. This is because local recycling centers don’t have the machinery to process plastic film, so grocery bags and trash bags can’t be recycled. Other things, like batteries and food waste, can contaminate recycling, causing it to end up in a landfill, so be careful to only throw things out that you are sure can be recycled, and make sure they are clean when you toss them. Michelle Bennett, the UD Sustainability Officer, recently told one of my classes, “It seems counter-intuitive, but if you aren’t sure whether it’s recyclable, please just throw it in the trash,” so as not to contaminate the recycling.
Reducing the waste we produce is also important, since recycling isn’t an ultimate solution. I take reusable bags with me to the grocery store and try to reuse jars and containers from foods like pasta sauce to store things like pencils and stationery. I have even reused jars as pots for small houseplants like succulents. I try to buy minimally packaged and ethically-sourced food when possible.
Additionally, I am conscious of my carbon and water footprints and try to reduce consumption of both. Part of this comes from eating a plant-based diet, which is less resource-intensive than eating animal products. It also comes from reducing time spent showering and running faucets, using cold water to wash my laundry instead of hot, turning lights off when they are not necessary and using natural light instead, and reducing the amount of air conditioning and heating I use.
The next step is one that is helpful when living on a college budget: reducing the amount I buy. Consumerism runs rampant in our society, but we don’t necessarily have to give into it. Instead of buying a new dress for every upcoming formal event, I ask my friends if I can borrow dresses they have already worn. I don’t buy clothes I don’t need and try to keep a relatively minimal wardrobe. I repurpose everything I can, and if I’m not using something, I take note of it, so I don’t buy a similar item again, and then I give the item away to a friend. I only make purchases that I have thought out for a while and know I will get a lot of use out of. This has not only saved me money, but it has also lessened my environmental impact by conserving resources and reducing my contribution to industrial pollution.
Finally, transportation is a huge part of carbon footprints. I try to walk to class as much as possible, and if the weather is bad, I’ll take the bus. I carpool to the grocery store with housemates. Otherwise, I try to avoid driving and taking Ubers, since it is not only resource-intensive and polluting, but also expensive.
I still have a long way to go when it comes to sustainability, but I’ve learned that taking it one small step at a time is manageable and can become second nature. The environment benefits, and I save money most of the time. I would urge others to not only implement these steps, among others, but to also get educated and involved with environmental activities and policy in the local area. After all, the Earth is our home, and we only get one.